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Breezy Point

Local Golf
June 23, 2017

Capybara on Olympic Golf Course
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Capybara on Olympic Golf Course
Olympians Sergio Garcia of Spain and Bernd Wiesberger are seen here taking photos of the capybaras.
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Olympians Sergio Garcia of Spain and Bernd Wiesberger are seen here taking photos of the capybaras.
By R.J. Smiley

It seems appropriate that after a 104-year absence from the Olympics, the world's greatest golfers would share the stage with the world's largest rodent. Capybara, the 150 pound rodent that looks like a huge guinea pig and tastes like a cross between pork and fish, attracted a lot of TV coverage during the extended coverage of golf at the Rio Olympics.

We Americans are a fickle group. We think of a rodent. We think of a rat! As the commentators talked about the huge rodent that spends as much time in the water as he does on land, American television watchers where thinking of a huge rat. In our minds, we picture disease-infested rats scurrying around in a dark and damp sewer. Women shriek at the sight of a rat and men shutter and avoid any contact with these lowest of God's creatures. At the sight of a rat in our American homes, we immediately send the kids to grandmother's house and call an exterminator.

The fact is the newly constructed Olympic Golf Course was built on a parcel of virgin property within the Marapendi Natural Reserve in the Barra da Tijuca zone of Rio de Janeiro. The rats, er, capybara, anaconda, Garcia (not Sergio) owls and small gators have flourished in this undisturbed wilderness for centuries. These native creatures have adapted quite well to the easy life on the golf course. To this variety of South American critters, the golf course is a man-made paradise. The situation is much like golf courses in the desert southwest, where the abundance of water and lush green grass have caused rabbits and the creatures who feed on them to flourish.

When discussing the abundance of capybara, Mark Johnson, Director of International Agronomy for the PGA TOUR, told the National Post, "They chew down on the grass. There are about 30-40 of them inside the course perimeter, but they live here and we play golf here, we co-exist." Johnson went on to joke, "Don't worry about the owls that burrow into sand bunkers. If a ball ends up in a hole created by an owl, the golfer gets a free drop."

Capybara, the docile vegan creatures that are harmless to man, range across most of South America. They inhabit savannas along rivers and dense forests near bodies of water. Capybara are a very social species and can be found in groups as large as 100 individuals, but usually live in groups of 10-20. They are a freak of nature with three toes on their rear feet and four toes on their front feet. They have slight webbing between their toes and their hind legs are slightly longer than their forelegs. The capybara is not a threatened species and is hunted for their meat and also for a grease from its thick fatty skin, which is used in the pharmaceutical trade. Venezuela actually has ranches, some thousands of acres that raise capybaras for their meat. The meat that has a salty taste is considered a delicacy in many sections of South America. There is a story, dating back to the 1800s, that a priest, in a poor parish of Venezuela where capybara is a main food source, asked the Vatican for approval to eat the meat of the capybara during Lent. His argument - the natives consider the animal more fish than mammal because it spends so much time in the water.

There are many fine dining restaurants located in various South American cities that have made an art of pairing locally grown wines with the unique taste of capybara meat. White wines seem to be preferred pairing, but light reds, like Pino Noir are also served.

In the U.S. capybara can be seen in many zoos across the country. These pig like creatures make wonderful pets, they are allowed to be kept as pets without restrictions in three states. When it comes to having a pet on the golf course, the capybaras don't seem so bad if you can get over the "rat or rodent" idea.

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