Best Addition to the St. Louis Zoo - 2002
The capybara is a rodent Rorschach test. Hang around the enclosure they share with the giant anteater for a while, and you'll hear much speculation as to what manner of beast this be. Children tend to the cuddly end of the spectrum, whereas adults tend to know a brother rat when they see one. All this confusion results from the fact that the capybara, or carpincho ("water hog," see?), is a sort of exquisite corpse: giant rump, webbed feet, head shaped like a shoebox; no coherent intention could have resulted in such an animal. A good-natured if oddly formed creature, the capybara is nature's largest rodent, and semiaquatic in the bargain. So aquatic, in fact, that in Venezuela it's considered fair Lenten game. They don't do much of anything other than laze about in between bouts of nuzzling and nudging one another, taking serene amusement in arranging gentle collisions in their pond. The capybara manages to radiate a sort of detached mindfulness, even while being poked in the ass by the ostentatious, overrated anteater. The whole animal seems somehow vestigial, as if designed for a purpose of which our memory is lost.