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Capybara: Giant rodent probably exotic pet who broke free, officials say

Capybara in Paso Robles

Officials said the capybara spotted in Paso Robles was probably an exotic pet that somehow got loose and doubt there are more of them roaming around the rea.

The semiaquatic capybara is the world's largest rodent and prefers swampy, marshy habitats. It's illegal to own a capybara as a pet in California, so authorities believe the animal either was released by or escaped from an owner a few years ago and has been roaming Paso Robles ever since.

"Somebody probably brought it in as a pet, and they either got away or people couldn't deal with it anymore," Fish and Game spokesman Andrew Hughan said.

The rodents — which can grow to the size of a large dog — aren't dangerous, "just weird-looking," Hughan said.

It's not the first time a capybara has been spotted in Paso Robles. Game wardens received a report about three years ago of a capybara in a pond near Hunter Ranch Golf Course, but because there were no other sightings and beavers live in the area, they thought it was a mistake.

Eight months later, a man said a large rodent-like creature scared his horses away and started eating the hay he was feeding them. The man eventually fired a gun in the direction of the animal as it chased his dog. He then called wildlife officials after it left the property. Wardens confirmed that footprints at the scene were that of a capybara.

No other sightings were reported until three weeks ago at the wastewater plant, though Kamp said another co-worker said he had seen a strange animal at the plant but wasn't sure what it was.

No other capybara sightings have been reported in California, Hughan said. The rodents have been spotted in other states over the years. In Florida, sightings are common; some experts believe a wild capybara population exists after a few rodents escaped from a research facility in 2001.

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Photo: Nick Kamp and Craig Rambo were making their rounds at a Paso Robles wastewater treatment plant a few weeks ago when they spotted something definitely out of the ordinary: a wild capybara. The world's largest rodent is native to South America and usually isn't found in the United States except in zoos. Credit: Nick Kamp

 
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