Ituzaingo Wildlife

Some days, it’s rough to be in rural Argentina. In general, it can be tough to be in a town of 2,000-3,000 people, but it’s even rougher when the nearest city (and, to be honest, next bit of civilization) is an hour away and when you’re still very much considered the “outsiders.”

One of the higher points of living in this area, though, is the wildlife. From huge tegu lizards walking across the beach, geckos walking across the sliding door, and a herd of parrots squawking  in the palm tree–there’s a lot of stuff here that’s different from the US. No one here has ever seen a squirrel, but they don’t blink when a huge tarantula runs across the road. Every morning I get to watch the wild guinea pigs scurry on the side of the road. And then, I get to see the Rodents of Unusual Size…

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Every day we see carpinchos (capybara) on our way to work. Carpincho is the Argentinian word for these hundred pound guinea pigs, whereas Capybara is actually the Brazilian Portuguese term. Traveling in herds of up to dozens of individuals, these semi-aquatic animals are some of the coolest things we get to see here.

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They’re surprisingly fast for a short, squat animal. We’ve stopped multiple times to try and just take a closer look at them, only to have them take off like a shot in the opposite direction.

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I was surprised to learn that carpinchos make a much different noise than guinea pigs. Like guinea pigs, they can make “clucking” and “purring noises” to indicate happiness, but carpinchos can also make almost birdlike “chirps” as well as some crying noises (almost like a bird crying) when they are in distress.

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They are incredibly social, and we’ll often see what we refer to as “daycares” in a certain hollow, where it’s all mothers and dozens of babies. It’s very cute.

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The other animal we get to see every once in a while are marsh deer. Notoriously shy, these animals (very similar to the North American mule deer) are categorized as vulnerable. Where we live, it’s illegal to hunt these deer at all–but it does happen. The area we live and work is has been the site of some particularly interesting environmental impacts, so Ituzaingo and the surrounding marshlands are considered a prime area for marsh deer breeding and reintroduction. We often see a solitary deer peeking out of the bushes sometimes in the mornings. We’re not sure if it’s the same deer every time, but it’s always a treat to spy him.

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Iguazu Falls, ARG: Guira Oga

T and I spent the weekend celebrating our second (!!) wedding anniversary at Iguazu Falls. I know most reviews tend to focus on the falls at first–but I decided to work in reverse chronological order and get to the falls next.

On our final day in Igauzu, we decided to go to Guira Oga.  Guira Oga is a wildlife refuge right on the outskirts of Puerto Iguazu proper. It’s easy to see the huge sign from the road. It’s 85 pesos to get in, and they only accept cash (efectivo)–something we totally forgot and had to make a quick Macro Bank run into town!

Guira Oga started as a veterinary sanctuary and park for birds, but has since expanded to include all sorts of animals. Although there are apparently guides available in English, there weren’t any there on our Sunday trip, so we took the normal Spanish tour. You can only take the guided tours–there are no self-guided options, mainly for the benefits of the animals. Thankfully, although my technical Spanish is lacking, my “animal” Spanish is pretty good. We took a tractor and wagon ride about 1.5km into the woods (which felt kind of like a jungle hayride) to the first stop, and hiked the rest of it with the group. We had a small group of Argentinians–a family and a couple from Buenos Aires, and then us.

We started our hike with a quick intro into the Guira Oga philosophy. They tend to get a lot of animals from the nearby Igauzu National Park who are injured, as well as a number of animals that were either kept as illegal pets or confiscated at the border as part of the black market animal business. They try to rehabilitate and re-release as many of the animals as possible, and those that would not survive in the wild are used for either educational purposes or are put into a breeding program.

DSC_7317 Since their original focus was the hundreds of bird species native to Misiones province, birds were well-represented at Guira Oga. Lots of beautifully colored parrots and toucans squawked and flew around airy enclosures.

DSC_7323 DSC_7336 DSC_7339 DSC_7347 DSC_7348Also, they had an enclosure full of capuchin monkeys. These are the monkeys in “Night at the Museum,” among other movies. They are native to this area and were absolutely adorable, hamming it up for our cameras.

DSC_7371 DSC_7386 DSC_7390 DSC_7398 DSC_7399Along the trail, much to T’s simultaneous fascination and dismay, there were lots of HUGE spiders. The guide was explaining to us about one species that was as big as a man’s palm that the US Army uses its web to spin textiles from.

DSC_7407We saw lots of coati (similar to raccoons) at Iguazu National Park, and one of the more common animals that Guira Oga treats is the coatis that run out into the road and get hit. This guy was just hanging out and watching us.

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We saw several wild cats at Guira Oga. Since they’re normally so shy in nature, this is probably the closest we’ll ever get to seeing them in the wild. There was a beautiful leopard, as well as a jagaurundi. The jaguarundi (which I can’t remember ever seeing before!) looks like a house cat on steroids. Low to the ground, gray in color, and not that much larger than a housecat, it ripples with obviously strong muscles.

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After we passed through the nursery area where they were hatching some owlets, we went into the reptile section. There, we saw an armadillo, some turtles, a yacare (crocodile), an iguana, and tortoises.

DSC_7428 DSC_7448 DSC_7451 DSC_7465 DSC_7472Also, Guira Oga had some large birds of prey outside. It’s one thing to see them flying in the sky–and an entirely different thing to realize how absolutely huge their wingspan is when they’re ten feet away!

DSC_7484 DSC_7481After checking out a wild pig and a much larger yacare…

DSC_7489 DSC_7491We saw the sanctuary’s herd of howler monkeys. Able to make a call that can be herd up to 5km away, the males have black fur while the females have brown fur. The guide told us that this group was being kept as pets in Buenos Aires… until the owners realized what a bad situation they had gotten themselves into!

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As usual, one of my favorite animals at the sanctuary was the carpincho, or capybara, as they are more commonly known in the States. Although this poor guy didn’t have a mate, he did have a ducky friend and was happily posing for us. I wish we had gotten a photo of him showing his teeth–they are not to be messed with!

DSC_7550 DSC_7547I highly recommend checking out Guira Oga if you’re in Iguazu Falls. It’s not a long trip–only about two hours from start to finish, but definitely worth your while to see lots of animals up close, and to contribute to a very worthy cause. These pictures don’t even include all of the animals on the tour–we just couldn’t get all the great shots we wanted.

Buenos Aires–Zoo Buenos Aires

On a whim we decided to visit Zoo Buenos Aires while we were in town. We had already gone to Temaiken and loved it, but we were already walking around the perimeter of the zoo, and it was a beautiful day, so we decided to pay the approximately $14 each and go in.

The pros: The zoo has a lot of animals you can see close up, much like Temaiken. They’re right there! In many cases, you can feed the animals. Just buy the little bucket of animal feed, and you can feed lots of deer, bison, monkeys, etc.

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They also have maras–lots of them. They are free-roaming, and they are on every available grassy patch. They are friendly and adorable and by far were my favorite part of the zoo. We also saw some free-ranging nutria (kind of a groundhog with a long rat-like tail that gets made into coats in the US)!

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If you look closely near the brush, there’s a whole den of baby maras hanging out there.

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Nutria and rhea

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They also have a large amount of capybaras/carpinchos that you can see up close (though unfortunately not pet…). I was happy to see such a big herd of them. Capys are happiest in a big crowd.

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A whole nest of carpinchos. Plus a nutria with an identity crisis.

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The big con: this is a zoo in the truest of forms. That means that some of the cages are small, the animals have virtually no room to run around, and they aren’t given proper stimulation/toys. Also, the pellets you feed to the animals are one size fits all, so they’re not specific to the animal’s diets. The animals in Zoo Buenos Aires were not nearly as happy as those in Temaiken. Well, except for the maras and nutrias, who seemed pretty pleased overall.

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Was it worth it? Eh. Obviously, there were some high points, but the zoo is a bit run-down, and clearly focused on making the people happy, not so much the animals.

Capybaras or Carpinchos

It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have a soft spot for most rodents. (Minus rats, which I attribute to horrible experiences in the L’Enfant metro station in DC. Sorry, Clara.)

Argentina happens to be home to the largest rodent in the world. Known in the US as a capybara, down here they are called carpinchos.  Looking vaguely like a brown, webbed-foot guinea pig, they live near water in groups of 10-20 and can weigh more than 75 lbs when fully grown. And, more importantly, they are the most judgmental animals known to man.  Mr. Winks can look incredibly judgmental of what you’re eating for dinner, the movie you’ve chosen to watch, or what time you’re going to bed, and he is only about 3 lbs. Multiply that, and give them wilderness street smarts… and you’ve got a highly judgmental giant rodent. Or I could just be projecting.

Watch out for capybaras! And marsh deer. And jacares.

Watch out for capybaras! And marsh deer. And jacares.

On our way to work, T and I pass through a wildlife preserve with a sign that encourages us to not hit the wildlife, including capybaras, marsh deer, and jacares (a type of crocodile).  We spent the first week trying to see a herd of capybaras. The locals seem to afford them the same attitude that Pennsylvanians have towards white-tailed deer: adorable, and even tasty, but don’t hit them unless you would like to get a new car.

We saw herds of what we were sure were capybara in the distance (or, for all we know, could have been anything vaguely brown and round-ish). But last week, we hit the jackpot. Driving home, we saw a herd of capys right next to the guard rail. And not just a herd–a family! What follows are photographic evidence of 1) how tolerant T is of my obsession with rodents that he backed up, turned around the car, and stuck his head out of the window to get photos of them, and 2) how adorable capys are.

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Capybaras can actually be pets in the US, albeit only in the most exotic-friendly states. They can be trained to wear leashes, but they would probably be a horrible pet to clean up after. They prefer to do their business in water, so they need to have access to a pool. Which one then has to clean for them.  However, much like their smaller guinea pig cousins, they have wiry hair, enjoy eating lots of veggies, and tolerate people petting them. According to the Google (through which all things must be true), however, capybaras hate hugs.

At some point T and I plan on going to the fancy-schmancy hotel outside of Posadas and getting the full wildlife tour they offer.

The weather here has gotten slightly cooler. Whereas early last week was easily 100 degrees, it’s a chilly 85 out there now after some strong storms over the weekend. We spent the weekend watching “Los Simpsons” and “Que Esperar quando Esperando” (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) on Fox. A fun adventure in learning colloquial Spanish from a show and movie we already knew the storyline to.

Something that is blessedly similar worldwide–technology jargon!  Everyone knows what an iPhone is. Everyone can identify the word “internet.” They all know “wifi.”  Thank goodness for the importation of American jargon. I actually used the word “user-friendly” in a meeting today when I couldn’t possibly think of the Spanish equivalent, and the tech guy totally understood what I was saying.

As a final note, I remembered that T took a picture of us in the plane on his iPod right before we took off. Here we are in all of our traveling glory:

Delta time! BWI to ATL

Delta time! BWI to ATL

Ciao!