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Huge rodents vie with rich for best real estate in Argentina’s capital

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Capybaras are pictured by a woman while eating grass next to a street in a gated community in Tigre, Buenos Aires province, on August 27. AFP

Huge rodents vie with rich for best real estate in Argentina’s capital

Families of a giant rodent native to South America have been invading a luxury gated community in Argentina, highlighting the country’s controversial environmental and social policies.

Nordelta is a 1,600ha luxury private urban complex built on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, on a wetland from the Parana river that is the capybara’s natural habitat.

Many Nordelta residents have complained about capybara’s ruining manicured lawns, biting pets and causing traffic accidents.

Also known as a carpincho or chiguire, the capybara is the largest rodent in the world and can measure up to 1.35m in length and reach 80kg in weight.

“Nordelta is an exceptionally rich wetland that should never have been touched,” biologist Sebastian di Martino, conservation director at the Rewilding Argentina foundation, said.

“Now that the damage has been done, the residents need to reach a certain level of coexistence with the carpinchos,” said Di Martino.

Built 20 years ago, Nordelta has homes, offices, a shopping centre, schools, a church, a synagogue and an artificial lake that is home to aquatic birds.

But since work to build a clinic began on the last remaining piece of natural land, many residents have noted a sudden capybara “invasion”.

“Carpinchos were always here. We always saw them from time to time. But three or four months ago [builders] went for their last remaining stronghold and the stampede began,” said Perla Paggi, a Nordelta resident and capybara activist.

Nordelta and similar luxury developments on wetlands have also been a controversial topic in Argentina.

As well as eating into the capybara’s natural habitat, large scale development of the wetland means the soil can no longer absorb heavy rains, which then end up flooding poorer surrounding neighbourhoods.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Capybaras eat grass next to a street in a gated community in Tigre, Buenos Aires province, on August 27. AFP

In politically polarised Argentina, leftists have long attacked Nordelta as an example of elite exploitation, while jokingly presenting the capybara as a hero of the working classes.

Lack of predators

Di Martino says the proliferation of capybaras is harmful to the environment, but that too is the fault of humans.

Capybaras are prey for jaguars, pumas, foxes, wild cats and wild dogs but all of these animals are now virtually extinct in Argentina.

“It’s happening all over the country, in urbanised and non-urbanised areas. It is caused by the alteration and degradation of ecosystems. We’ve extinguished a tonne of species that were their natural predators,” Di Martino said.

“The carpincho needs a predator to reduce its population and also make it afraid,” said Di Martino.

“When there’s a herbivore without a predator threatening it, it doesn’t hide and can spend all day eating, thereby degrading the vegetation which traps less carbon and contributes to climate change.”

In the wild, capybaras live between eight and 10 years and give birth to litters of up to six young, once a year.

Not everyone in Nordelta views them as a nuisance. In fact they have become the main attraction in the residential complex.

Drivers slow down to take pictures of them, while children seek them out at nightfall for selfies.

Some Nordelta residents want to create a natural reserve for the capybaras to live in.

“We have to learn to live beside them, they’re not aggressive animals,” said Paggi.

“A 20 to 30ha reserve is enough to maintain diversity. They are defenseless animals, we corner them, we take away their habitat and now we complain because they’re invading.”

Di Martino, though, says a natural reserve would change nothing.

“It’s complicated, you need to keep them away from children and pets. And then you’re going to have to find a way to reduce the population, maybe moving them to other places.”

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