In some places, legend has it that chupacabras, abominable snowmen and other mythical beasts roam the countryside. In Paso Robles, Calif., folks tell tales of a legendary capybara.
The largest rodents in the world, capybaras live in South America and thrive in aquatic regions like the Amazon basin. How one member of the species made its way up to central California, no one knows. But it did. After years of speculative sightings, the rogue rodent has finally been caught on camera.
An estimated 100- to 120-pound specimen was first reported three years ago at a city golf course. According to Todd Tognazzini, a patrol lieutenant with California Dept. of Fish and Game, the report seemed absurd at the time, and the unidentified creature in question was taken to have been a beaver.
Then, less than two years ago, the capybara was seen chasing a Labrador retriever near a road. The dog's owner shot at it with a shotgun. "We didn't know if it was hit or not, but we had an investigator go out and confirm the footprints," Tognazzini told the local NBC News station. Because the capybara lay low for almost two years, everyone in the area thought it must have died in the scuffle.
But on July 22, the oversized rodent was spotted milling around a water treatment facility on the city's outskirts. "We discovered it one morning in our water ponds," said Chris Slater, a division supervisor at the Paso Robles Wastewater Treatment Plant. "They came up to tell me, and I said, 'Oh come on, you guys, what have you been smoking down there?'" As proof, the workers took photos of the small beast.
Apparently, one plant worker had seen the two-foot-tall animal swimming in the ponds before, but kept the strange scene to himself. "One operator said, 'I've seen him a couple times, but I didn't say anything because I didn't want you guys to think I was nuts,'" Slater said.
The Dept. of Fish and Game plan to live trap the capybara next time it appears. If recent history is anything to go by, though, the legendary creature will remain elusive.