Rodents the Size of St. Bernards Swarm an Exclusive Gated Community

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The world’s largest rodents, threatened pets, roam tight streets and mud pristine lawns in Argentina, prompting calls for them to be relocated or neutered.

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Capybaras living in Nordelta can reach up to 140 pounds. Picture a guinea pig in the shape of a St. Bernard with a beaver-like chopper, an insatiable vegetarian appetite, and XXL-sized droppings. They roam in record numbers, munching on manicured lawns and scuffles with family pets. In August, a security camera caught a food-delivery worker hitting his motorcycle after hitting a capybara in a dark intersection.

The furry, water-loving creatures were there first—Nordelta were built on their wetland habitat—with giant rodents prompting strange attempts at detente. Neighbors are divided, viewing them as either fowl or prey.

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“I am not anti-capybara; I want to scratch their cute little belly like no one else,” said 62-year-old real estate broker and longtime resident Gustavo Iglesias. And people are afraid to do anything. No one wants to look like they are against nature.”

He said Mr. Iglesias’s lakeside garden gets a daily serving of jumbo scat thrown by the two dozen or so capybaras that live in his yard. That was bad, but the last straw was when his dog Lucho went limping into the house with the bloody pair, limping into what seemed like the handiwork of rogue rodents.

Capybaras do not appear to be dangerous. Their appearance—wide snout, round body—and generally laid-back nature make them a favorite of visitors to national parks. A capybara family is featured in “Encanto,” an animated Walt Disney Company film that takes place in Colombia and begins next month. They are also served as a grilled dish in rural parts of South America.

Large rodents, which usually live in family units of 40 animals, are known by different names in different countries: chiguirre in Venezuela, ronsco in peru, poncho in panama capybara in Argentina. Females can give birth to half a dozen offspring in a year.

Capybaras seem to be enjoying the good life in Nordelta. They sunbathe and graze in man-made lagoons, protected from natural predators such as South American alligators, jaguars, and caimans.

Residents who find capybaras a nuisance aren’t sure what they can do. Hunting rodents requires approval from environmental regulators.

Duel WhatsApp chat groups have formed in recent months—one pro-capybara, one against.

In July, Enema Ferreira, a Brazilian model living in Nordelta, posted a photo of a bloodied capybara to Twitter, which she said had been killed by a buckshot by a neighbor. Another resident posted pictures of a capybara being crushed by a van.

Nordelta’s man-versus-nature saga is garnering national attention. Environmentalists affiliated with Argentina’s leftist government want capybaras to be abandoned by affluent members of the community.

“I was outraged by the complaint from Nordelta residents,” said Adrian Mazza, 47, a tour guide at a national park. “It is the humans who invaded the territory of the Capybara.”

Others said the rodents should be relocated, citing traffic accidents and damage caused by capybaras chewing on lawns and palm trees. A 47-year-old teacher named Romina, who declined to give her last name, said, “We can’t have a wild animal running on the main roads here.”

Biologist and conservationist Talia Zamboni said she sees some issues as polarizing: “These things are always divided between right and left, rich and poor, and here in our midst are these little beasts caught.”

Some environmentalists have cited Capybara in Nordelta for urging lawmakers to pursue a long-delayed law barring development in Argentina’s wetlands.

Nordelta was created after breaking ground in 1999, on the outskirts of the Paraná River Delta, north of Buenos Aires. It was marketed as a safe, American-style haven for moneyed Argentines, including full-time residents. A slogan on Nordelta’s website promises “the peace of nature and the comfort of the city”.

Whopper rodents are testing how much nature’s inhabitants really want. Mr Iglesias said that after his dog was attacked two years ago, he talked about controlling the capybara population. His 36-year-old daughter, who also lives in Nordelta, opposed him.

“She thought I wanted to kill the Capybaras!” he said. “On the contrary. I love being with them, as long as there is balance.”

Nordelta developer Eduardo Costantini sought to reassure Argentina in a recent radio interview that there were no plans to kill the animals. He also urged residents to find a way to live in harmony with the larger rodents.

“Capybaras are defenseless and lovable creatures that need care and love from all of us,” Mr Costantini wrote in a recent Instagram post. He declined to comment.

According to residents, capybaras mostly live around premium waterfront properties, which account for about 15% of the 3,000 properties in Nordelta. In recent days, cyclists and runners have flocked around capybaras and blocked the path to the park while the animals were chewing on the grass.

Retired journalist Marcelo Canton, a spokesman for a local neighbors union, said his group has proposed various plans to government regulators. One is to create a 500-acre reserve for capybara in Nordelta. Another thought: castrating men.

It is impossible to be heard by state wildlife officials during the pandemic, Mr Canton said. Meanwhile, the association put up road signs urging motorists and cyclists to watch out for capybars.

“It was very painful to see people accuse us of mistreating the Capybaras, because we have a lot of respect for them here,” said Mr. Canton, speaking to some of them. “We put a lot of money into making sure they are safe.”

write to Kejal Vyas at [email protected]

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