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The capybara gets a free pass

August 18, 2011 | 12:43 pm

A capybara, the biggest rodent in the world. 
Finally, an animal has accomplished in California what thousands of other animals -- whether zoo inhabitants or wayward bears stumbling into urban backyards -- have not been able to achieve: being left alone.

The animal -- a capybara -- that wandered through a Paso Robles waste water treatment plant last month has no marquee looks. Possessed of a lumpy body and short, squat legs, it resembles a wild boar (but cuter) and has the ignominious distinction of being classified as the world's largest rodent. But the creature has some other qualities in its favor. It's an herbivore and nonthreatening. There's a story that the capybara is so docile that one was used by a blind man in Surinam as a guide animal. Native to South America and a rare visitor to California, it was probably a pet that got loose, according to California Fish and Game wardens. They looked at photos snapped by a treatment plant worker and estimated the animal to be an adult capybara weighing about 100 pounds. He -- or she -- appears to be traveling solo. So there is little chance of a capybara colony blossoming in California and destroying the ecosystem.

Fish and Game officials say they will allow the animal to roam. The only warning they have issued is directed at the humans who might want to hunt it: don't.

So for the time being, the capybara is free to enjoy the local vegetation, try surfing (they like to swim) and otherwise partake of the California dream. We have one piece of advice for the visitor: Avoid the fate of native rodents who end up as road kill -- stay away from the freeways.

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Photo: A capybara in Hato Pinero, west of Caracas, Venezuela. Credit: Jorge Silva / Reuters

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