Zoo's capybaras find love in their own version of 'The Bachelor'

Margaret Eby, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Lifestyles

A shy guy from Abilene, Texas, moves to a small town on the Jersey Shore, looking for love. It sounds like the setup for a romantic comedy, or the premise of a reality dating show, at least to Cape May zookeeper Stephanie Schnitzler.

The big twist? The guy in question is a young capybara named Goomba. The zoo welcomed Goomba on Valentine’s Day 2023 as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survivor Plan, a breeding program for animals in captivity. The idea was to match Goomba, then just 6 months old, with one of the three female capybaras at the Cape May County Zoo: Budette and her two daughters, Marigold and Buttercup.

The first introductions did not go well. Goomba, who Schnitzler describes as a “short king,” is on the smaller side for a capybara, and was intimidated by some of his new roommates. “Our neutered male, Cappucino, hated him from the start,” Schnitzler, who has been a zookeeper at Cape May for seven years, said. “Males are very territorial. Cappucino is pretty big.”

Goomba’s first potential match, Marigold, was also not a fan. “It went exceptionally badly,” Schnitzler said. “I call her girl boss. She’s very aggressive in that sense.” Marigold, one of the largest capybaras in the herd, would antagonize Goomba by standing up on her hind legs and showing off her teeth. “He would just run from her.”

Not only was this a bad date for Goomba and Marigold, it was stressful for the zookeepers. While mixing the two semiaquatic rodents, several zookeepers would be in the pen, standing at the ready with pig boards — large plastic slabs used to corral hogs — in case a fight brought out. “You know when parents drop kids off at the movies for their first dates in middle school? That’s pretty much what goes on,” Schnitzler said.


To ease the tension — and to have a little bit of fun with the situation — Schnitzler decided that she would style the encounters as reality television-style “dates” on the zoo’s Instagram account. The Cape May Zoo had its very own version of "The Bachelor."

After some more chaperoned “dates,” Goomba moved on from Marigold. He ended up hitting it off with not one, but two mates. What’s more? The two he chose are a mother-daughter pair, Budette and Buttercup. While in the human world, that would take things from The Bachelor straight into Jerry Springer territory, in the capybara context, Schnitzler assures, it’s pretty normal. “Female capybaras do a lot of communal things. When they have pups that are similar in age they will let them nurse from each other. They’ll co-parent,” Schnitzler said.

Now that Goomba has given out his final roses and begun breeding, the hope is that later this year, there might be some capybara pups at the zoo. Will there be a reunion episode? Schnitzler said time will tell. But look out for their “Behind the Rose” post coming up soon. Fans of capybara drama can come visit the capybara enclosure at the Cape May Zoo for a glimpse at the herd from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus