Why Is Everyone Suddenly Obsessed With This Giant Rodent?

The latest internet obsession is the intensely chill capybara.

02 November 2021, 11:06am

But Y Tho explores a plethora of funny, strange, and peculiar trends to provide long sought-after answers to questions that have been swimming in all our heads.


Who rule the internet? The most unexpected animals, apparently. 

First there were cats, whose high-profile reign as the internet’s obsession inspired museum exhibitions and academic scrutiny. Then, its throne on virality was shared with sleepy sloths, until raccoons came rolling around. Now, capybaras are the latest internet darling in the rotation of quirky but aggressively adorable animals. 

Just two months ago, I would have taken the term “capybara” to refer to an elaborate festive garment, or perhaps an obscure local delicacy (which, as I later found out, is true in parts of South America).

But these days, I’m knee-deep in saving cute capybara Instagram posts, falling asleep to capybara live streams, and looking to kickstart a collection of capy merch.

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Turns out, I’m not the only one addicted to these deeply meditative rodents. Videos containing the hashtag “capybara” have garnered over 116 million views on TikTok. On Instagram, capybara appreciation accounts—many created within the past year—are rapidly gaining popularity.

A cute capybara. Photo: Courtesy of Nagasaki Bio Park

Measuring about a meter long and weighing 50 kilograms on average, the capybara has the barrel body shape of a pig, tiptoes around on its webbed feet, looks like an upsized guinea pig, and exudes the nonchalance of a river stone. The social creatures live in a herd, but they are so chronically chill that some people have taken to calling a clique of capybaras a meditation.

Darby FitzSimmons, a 19-year-old student in Indiana and the person behind Capyverse, an Instagram account dedicated to capybaras, explained why she’s so in love with the giant rodents. 

“The easy answer as to why I like capybaras is they're just so cute. But the appeal definitely goes deeper than that,” she told VICE. “I think I'm specifically drawn to capybaras because of their personality. They're huge rodents, and are similar to dogs in the way they interact with people.” 

It’s now easy to see why capybaras are destined for stardom and internet memes. But why have capybaras evaded mainstream popularity until now?

A capybara taking a shower at Nagasaki Bio Park in Japan. Photo: Courtesy of Nagasaki Bio Park

FitzSimmons brought up two notable moments that may have helped propel the rodent to viral fame. 

In August, capybaras made headlines when they invaded a rich neighborhood in Argentina, munching on lawns, dueling with dogs, and pooping everywhere. Turns out, the fancy residential estate was built on wetlands where capybaras once roamed, so the rodents were, in a way, merely reclaiming the land. 

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What initially made for chucklesome optics soon turned into a debate about the ethics of urbanization. Soon, environmentalists were cosplaying as capybaras to defend their presence in the neighborhood.

The unbothered rodents were also hailed as the underdogs of the class war, being featured in murals and becoming the mascot for pro-socialist social media accounts. 

The other viral moment that FitzSimmons pointed out happened in September last year, with a video of a capybara riding in the passenger seat of a car. The no-context capybara footage ignited the “Ok I Pull Up” meme, which often features hilarious shots of capybaras scored with the song “After Party” by Don Toliver. 

“It's just one of those quirky, cute animal videos with a touch of hilarity that are easy to share to family and friends and quick to make, enabling their virality,” FitzSimmons said. 

She added that she was not expecting her niche capy appreciation account to take off at all when she created it in March. 

“I had intended it to be just a site for me and maybe five of my friends, I never intended for it to actually grow,” said FitzSimmons, whose account has now amassed 32,000 followers. 

“Suddenly, I had a hundred followers, then a thousand, and it really took off this summer.” 

Her love for capybaras developed when she started seeing more capybara accounts on her Instagram explore page—most notably, Japanese accounts. This seemed strange to FitzSimmons because capybaras are native to South America, and it prompted her into a rabbit hole of capybara research.

“I got dragged into capybara fandom from there,” FitzSimmons said.

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While most of us are just now opening our eyes to the cuteness of capybaras, Japan is way ahead in its obsession with the cuddly creature. From parks to cafes, hot springs, and watermelon-eating competitions, capybaras are the quirky objects of national affection.

Nagasaki Bio Park is known as Japan’s “Paradise of Capybara,” where visitors are free to pet capybaras into a blissful trance (for both the rodent and the human). The park is also well-known for its capybara bath facility, built in 2008, where people can watch the furry creatures steep in warm water.   

A capybara balancing a fruit on its head. Photo: Courtesy of Nagasaki Bio Park

Kimitaka Kamichika, a director at Nagasaki Bio Park, told VICE that by the time the capybara bath was built in 2008, the rodents were already wildly popular in Japan due to a certain cartoon character: Kapibara-san.

Launched in the 2000s by toymaker Bandai, Kapibara-san is the laid-back protagonist of an anime where the eponymous capybara goes on adventures with his animal pals. The success of Kapibara-san resulted in an array of merchandise, manga adaptations, and a universe of related animal characters. 

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While rightfully cute in its own anime way, Kapibara-san doesn’t look very much like a real-life capybara. But this didn’t really matter—with the rising popularity of Kapibara-san came the gradual adoration of the actual animal. 

On a deeper level, the popularity of the zen capybara in Japan may also stem from a cultural yearning for having a good ol’ laze.

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“I am not sure, but it may be because we Japanese work very hard and keep the rules properly, always,” said Kamichika. “We may want to live freely and sleep in the daytime, like capybaras do.”

A capybara, lounging. Photo: Courtesy of Nagasaki Bio Park

With a deeper understanding of the recent popularity of capybaras, I took a trip to a local zoo in Singapore for a glimpse of the rotund rodents.

I was not disappointed—they were as adorable as I had imagined, and more. After the teary-eyed excitement of finally seeing capybaras IRL, I left the zoo with just a couple of pathetic, low-quality shots to remember my momentous encounter by.

Capybara being fed by zookeepers at Singapore’s River Safari. Photo: Koh Ewe

A capybara munching on grass at Singapore’s River Safari. Photo: Koh Ewe

Fun facts about capybaras that would make you go “aww”: They eat some of their own poop in the morning to digest their grass twice, and enjoy belly rubs so much they sometimes go into a trance.

They are also known to be one of the friendliest animals, having been spotted mingling with a variety of animals including cats, ducks, monkeys, and tortoises.

But according to Liz Capaldi, a writer and longtime capybara enthusiast, capybaras offer way more than just their cute appearance. 

“Apart from their cuteness, they are very intelligent and sensitive emotionally,” Capaldi told VICE. “Capybaras are much more interesting when you know them as individuals and know their relationships with other members of their herd, and can watch their behavior on a daily basis.”

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“Capybaras are much, much more than just cute.”

The internet loves capybaras. Photo: Courtesy of Nagasaki Bio Park

Capaldi loved capybaras even before the internet caught on to the capy craze—she has been running a capybara blog and posting capybara videos on YouTube for 10 years.

Since 2013, (and before COVID-19 travel restrictions), she would spend more than half of the year hanging with her capybara friends in Nagasaki Bio Park and Henderson, a city near Las Vegas, where she is a longtime friend of two capybara owners.

Despite their friendly nature, Capaldi doesn’t think it’s a good idea for people to seek out capybaras as pets. 

“Wild animals usually suffer if they are kept as pets, and in my experience, this is also the case with capybaras who are kept as pets,” she said, adding that many pet capybaras die prematurely from factors such as poor diet, stress from an unnatural lifestyle, and lack of access to exotic vet treatment. 

For the most part, the expanding capybara fandom is sticking to memeing the creatures from afar. FitzSimmons has found a tight-knit community for herself within the internet’s common obsession with capybaras.

“An aspect of Capyverse I did not anticipate was just how many conversations I'd have with people all around the world who love capybaras,” she said. 

“To me, they represent more than a rodent. They're a community made up of people from all around the world with different backgrounds, who may have nothing else in common but friendly rodents the size of Saint Bernards.”

Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.

Tagged:

Viral, capybaras, butytho

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