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Female capybara goes to Florida as part of a breeding program for the large South American rodents

WEST PALM BEACH — A female capybara has arrived at a Florida zoo as part of a breeding program to bolster the population of the large South American rodents.

Iyari, a ten-month-old capybara, went to the Palm Beach Zoo & Save Society in May of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife AllianceShe is in a mixed-species habitat with a pair of Baird’s tapirs, which live in similar habitats in South America, while zoo staff slowly introduce her to the park’s 2-year-old male capybara, Zeus.

“We think there’s a little love in the air,” said Mike Terrell, general curator of the Palm Beach Zoo. “Every time they look at each other from a distance, we kind of see a look in their eyes like, ‘Hey, I want to hang out with them some more.’ So everything is very positive at the moment.”

Iyari’s move to South Florida began with a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The organization manages the entire population of capybaras and other animals at each AZA facility, with the understanding that the animals’ genetics could potentially contribute to wild populations in the future.

Capybaras gestate for about five months, with an average litter of four. Palm Beach Zoo employees aren’t sure when to expect baby capybaras. Terrell said it all depends on how long it takes for Iyari and Zeus to get to know each other.

Capybaras are the largest rodent species in the world and they look like giant guinea pigs. They live in savannas and dense forests near waters. It is a social species, usually found in groups of a dozen or so, but sometimes up to 100.

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The herbivores are not endangered, but Terrell said these “ecosystem engineers” eat plants and keep waterways clean so other animals can live.

“They are critical to their ecosystem,” Terrell said.

Visitors to Palm Beach Zoo can see Iyari in the Tropics of the Americas section of the park. The 23-acre park in West Palm Beach is home to hundreds of animals, many of which are threatened with extinction.

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