I’ll never forget the first time I saw a capybara. I was strolling though the zoo with my daughter when we came to an enclosure. I didn’t see any animals right away, so I looked at the photo card posted on their environment. “It looks like they are some kind of little guinea pigs from South America,” I told my daughter, peering at the cute photo. “Look,” she said, as one of the four-foot-long, 100-pound creatures came gamboling into view. “Holy crap,” I said to myself. “That’s one huge guinea pig.” And from that moment on, I was smitten. I loved eveything about them: their surprising size, their ugly/cuteness, their status as the world’s largest rodent. The capybara became, at that moment, my spirit animal.

So imagine my dismay to find out that people love the flavor of my spirit animal. The New York Times says “In Venzuela, Rodents Can Be a Delicacy.”

On his television show, ‘Hello, President,’ [Venezuelan president Hugo] Chávez has promoted capybara empanadas washed down with papaya juice.

Yes, despite boasting a flavor profile that is somewhere on the continuum between sardines and salt pork, around spingtime the capybara is widely sought after to grace the Lenten table (it’s closer to fish than meat, proponents say).

And by sought after, I mean hunted. And hunted kind of viciously at that, often clubbed to death. Some people are working to reduce the cruelty in the killing of capybaras:

‘We’re not asking for the capybaras to be put to death while listening to Vivaldi, but something could be done to make the practice less brutal,’ said Víctor Moreno, the head chef at the Center for Gastronomic Studies, a Caracas cooking school. ‘Capybara is an exquisite meat that deserves prominent stature in our culinary tradition.’

I’m all for the enjoyment of deliciousness. But overhunting is causing a serious reduction in the number of capybaras. Maybe some recognition of their cuteness could save them from endangerment?

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