Capybara? Capybara! The Internet Phenomenon

The capybara in the yuzu bath in the picture, which also appeared on the official Twitter profile of the Japanese government in December 2021.

You wanted them, so you will have them. Capybaras are coming back to Prague Zoo. Probably the most popular animals in the world at the moment. At least in the world of social networks, where they appear in countless memes with huge numbers of shares.

Capybara, which occurs in South America, is the largest living rodent in general; large specimens reach a weight of over sixty kilograms. It has a robust barrel-shaped body on short legs and a large prismatic head with nostrils, eyes and ears located close to the crown. It lives in groups of dozens of individuals and is an excellent swimmer and diver. Undoubtedly, an unmissable animal, but still: How is it possible that it has become an absolute phenomenon of meme culture?

A significant date for the incredible rise in online popularity of capybaras was September 10, 2020, when a meme appeared on You Tube combining a video of a capybara riding in a passenger seat of a car with the rapper Don Toliver’s hit “After Party”. This act began to be copied, modified and followed. In mid-2022 then a Russian band Sto-Litchnyy Ona-Nas released a song “Capybara”, which later took over TikTok in extremely successful memes.

Of course, this massive mainstream had its sources and larger as well as smaller tributaries. Japan can be considered the cradle of capybara’s popularity. Already in 2000, the toy manufacturer Bandai introduced a successful anime character named Kapibara-san there. However, the real pioneer was the photographer Katsuhito Watanabe, who in early 2007 set up a photography blog with a capybara theme, and later also a You Tube channel and profiles on social networks. As he says, his life revolves around capybaras: he spends more than 100 days a year in zoos by taking their photos and he takes over 100,000 pictures every year. The last time he drew significant attention was December 2018, when he tweeted a video of several capybaras in a traditional Japanese yuzu bath. By the way, Nagasaki Bio Park, which also offers the visitors a possibility to pet these rodents, is probably most famous for its special spa for capybaras.

Also, Argentina contributed significantly to the fame of capybaras, thanks to the so-called “Nordelta riots”. Nordelta was built on the site of wetlands in a beautiful landscape north of Buenos Aires and is a home to the wealthiest people. In Nordelta, the wealthy residents are isolated from the surrounding world, however capybaras did not respect that and “invaded” Nordelta in the summer of 2021. They destroyed manicured lawns, bit dogs, caused traffic accidents, and their excrements were the biggest problem of all. This led to an effort to start reducing them, but capybaras found massive support on social networks. The fact that a lot of users not only in Argentina, but also worldwide, started to portray them as a symbol of the class struggle against the rich, somehow became part of the matter…

Simply expressed, thanks to all of this, capybaras have achieved a global popularity and there is no wonder that also our visitors desired them more and more. So, their time will come next Saturday.