One of the High Park Zoo’s runaway capybaras evaded two men who chased it through the bush for hours and even played recordings of the creature’s calls on a phone, only to come face to face with the large rodent before it finally gave them the slip, an animal enthusiast involved in the hunt says.
Ben Lovatt says his friend spotted the fugitive sitting on a path around 9:15 p.m. Sunday, and was getting up close to it when a spectator shouted “I can help” and ran in, scaring the skittish dog-sized animal off.
Lovatt’s friend called the animal and natural history buff — who used to run an exotic pet store — in for backup, and sent a dark photo of the capybara, which resembles a giant hamster, on the park pathway. The city’s 311 line was also notified, Lovatt said.
Relieved to see the animal was still alive, he cabbed over within minutes and the chase was on, he said. The pair split up — one north, one south — in pursuit.
They grabbed capybara recordings off the Internet, he said, and with phones held in the air, played the calls at full volume as they beat through the bush.
Then, some two hours in as they stood amidst the park’s trees — success.
“We got a distress call back,” Lovatt said, and they followed the sound towards the southern pond.
With tracks suggesting it escaped through a gap in a fence, they searched the pond’s perimeter, Lovatt said.
In the twilight, they spotted the creature on the water’s edge “within a foot” away — close but still out of reach due to a fence separating pursuers from prey.
“It had frozen hoping we wouldn’t notice it,” Lovatt said. Then it lept into the water, ending the chase as the men watched, stunned.
“It swam off a couple of metres and paused there,” he said. “We just stood there, helpless.”
The elusive capybara didn’t have any sign of injuries and looked well fed, Lovatt said Monday. “The animal seems alright.”
But he laid blame with the city for not dispatching staff to the hunt sooner, saying they only showed up three hours after the sighting was called in.
“At least one of them would have been back in captivity as of last night if the city officials had come out to give us assistance,” said Lovatt.
“We know what we were doing. We had the animal. We could have had it caught.”
Parks staff had been conducting nightly capybara patrols, but those were discontinued prior to Sunday, spokeswoman Megan Price said. She said parks officials were informed around 11:30 p.m. of the sighting, “but did not go to the site as it was dark and unsafe for staff to be attending the scene at that hour.”
Price said they followed up Monday morning, and set a live trap in the area.
“I’m hoping the animal gets caught. That’s the most important thing,” Lovatt said.
“Both of the capybaras, they need to be caught soon. Every day their life is in danger.”
Tuesday will mark the start of the third week on the lam for the two animals, who got away while being taken into their enclosure May 24.