By Maxine Adams
The capybara, a native species to South America, is an easygoing yet bold rodent that people from around the world gravitate towards due to its chill ambience. Memes highlight the capybara’s school-esque popularity among birds, ducks, monkeys, and its mellow-esque temperament towards humans or any large animal for the matter. The capybara even shares a “friendly” relationship with its predator the caiman, (who definitely is the bold one in that relationship). A photo on reddit, for instance, displays an adult capybara sitting alone with a group of caimans at a ledge of an unknown riverbank (Capybara, 2019). In the photo, the capybara stands alongside its fellow predators with a seemingly fearless disposition. Along with its peculiar relation to the caiman, the fearless rodent is captured in more audacious contexts that could on the other hand put it into some “legal” trouble: for example, the capybara eating the gardens of multimillion-dollar mansions, defecating on newly fresh-fertilized cut lawns, and terrorizing petite dogs and wealthy onlookers nearby. The capybara seems to share a friendly relationship with its predator the caiman, but not the rich.
With developers clearing out 3,000 acres of critical wetland on the Paraná River coast and supplanting on top a community of multimillion-dollar homes on the outskirts of Buenos Aires (Sparks, 2021), the capybara has become a symbol of revolt against the rich in reclaiming communal territory from real estate speculation. Specifically, the capybara’s reclamation of Nordelta, an infamous 1600-hectre private urban complex, has sparked new dialogue and a growing movement against risky housing developments and destruction of wetlands in Argentina. Protests feature an assortment of voices from environmentalists and scientists to school students and precarious workers alike defending the capybara’s return to its native habitat and standing against privatization of Argentina’s ecological sensitive wetlands (France-Presse, 2021). The capybara has not only sparked necessity in conserving Argentina’s wetlands, but also protecting local communities from environmental destruction created through private urban development.
The Paraná Delta extending over 19,000 kilometers is one of the largest deltas in the world, embodying a huge ecological role in Argentina’s fertile agricultural system (Tognola, 2020). The Ramsar International Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands since 2016, designated the Paraná Delta a protected area due to its rich biodiversity and role in hydrological regulation. Hundreds of endemic species, animals, and vegetation found in Paraná are at risk of extinction from human activities such as agriculture and urban development (Tognola, 2020). Urban development projects such as Nordelta have completely changed the landscape and ecosystem of Paraná with a rise in devastating wildfires throughout the region (Tognola, 2020). The lack of control in activities carried out in the wetlands has resulted in fires that affect biodiversity in creating uninhabitable and dried-out landscapes, displacing endangered species and indigenous communities alike. Since 2012, bills have proposed regulations in protecting Argentina’s wetlands, but with powerful lobbying groups funded by powerful businessmen, many have side-stepped regulations and influenced relaxed polices (Tognola, 2020). Biologist Sebastian di Martino, a conservation director at the Rewilding Argentina Foundation states best that “Nordelta is an exceptionally rich wetland that should never have been touched.” Subsequent Nordelta development has produced devastating ecological impacts, specifically flooding in low lying neighborhoods surrounding Nordelta.
The development of vast stretches of impervious surfaces has invited mass flooding into low-leveled slums and municipalities with the poor bearing the brunt of polluted water and dispossession (Di Carli, 2017 & Perez, 2013). In April of 2013 for example, poor residents in Las Tunas, a working-class neighborhood located close to Nordelta, experienced mass flooding with Nordelta walls believed to have made the event worse for Las Tunas residents (Reed, 2016). Hundreds lost their homes and belongings and were trapped in a surrounding enclosure of water. Thus, during the flooding, many Las Tunas residents were forced to break down the surrounding Nordelta community wall in order to relieve the rising waters submerging their homes (Reed, 2016). Many incidents similarly have followed suit in 2015, with towns evacuated including Las Tunas and with three reported drowning, according to Clarín, a national newspaper (Di Carli, 2017). These same municipalities were hit again in 2016 and early 2017 with the change in composition of soil according to scientists believed to be a primary factor for flooding, preventing future heavy rains from being absorbed into layers of soil (Di Carli, 2017). Poor neighborhoods and slums often experience vast flooding due to a lack of infrastructure and disaster management in coping with heavy rains.
With lowering species complexity and the ensuing destruction of ecological health of the region, the capybara has inspired affluent environmentalists and Argentina’s working poor to unite against wealthy real estate. A new paradigm is needed in connecting class struggle and environmental degradation to combat unsustainable private urban development. Public spending directed towards working class neighborhoods, strong regulations and sustainable urban development is necessitated, and class unification against real-estate speculators is warranted.
Capybara with a group of caimans [Photograph]. (2019). Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/NatureIsFuckingLit/comments/aqauk7/capybara_wit...
Sparks, H. (2021, September 3). World's largest rodents reclaim home, poop on wealthy gated community. New York Post. Retrieved April 5, 2022, from https://nypost.com/2021/09/03/giant-rodents-reclaim-habitat-despite-wealthy-human-neighbors/
France-Presse, A. (2021, September 2). Capybaras invade rich Argentina neighborhood built on their land. Young Post. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.scmp.com/yp/discover/lifestyle/article/3147338/capybaras-invade-rich-argentina-neighbourhood-built-their
Tognola, V. (2020, October 13). Activists call for legislation to protect Argentina's wetlands.
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Di Carli, G. (2017, July 28). Argentina: Where the rich and poor will sink together. Correctiv. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://correctiv.org/en/latest-stories/sea-level-rising/2017/07/ 28/argentina-where-the-rich-and-poor-will-sink-together/
Perez, I. (2013, April 19). Climate change combined with poor urban planning exacerbated deadly Argentine flooding. Scientific American. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-combined-with-poor-urban-planning-exacerbated-deadly-argentine-flooding/
Reed, D. (2016, May 19). Story of cities #46: The gated buenos aires community which left its poor neighbours under water. The Guardian. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/may/19/story-cities-46-buenos-aires-gated-community-nordelta-flood