Published: 11:25 AM - 08-17-11
Joining the ranks of Bigfoot, the "Abominable Snowman" and the Easter Bunny, there's a new, unbelievable creature roaming the countryside. Yet unlike its mythical counterparts, this furry refugee has been caught on film in Central California.
A capybara was spotted at the Paso Robles Wastewater Treatment Plant.
advertisement After surviving in the wild for years, including a run-in with a shotgun, the world's largest rodent is becoming somewhat of a legend in a Central California city.
A capybara weighing between 100-120 pounds was first reported about three years ago at the Hunter Ranch Golf Course in Paso Robles, said Todd Tognazzini, a patrol lieutenant with California Department of Fish and Game.
At the time the sighting seemed unlikely, as capybaras -- the world's largest living rodent -- are native to South America, said Tognazzini. The report was second-hand, and most likely just a beaver, so it was dismissed.
Then, less than two years ago, the capybara was seen again.
The animal was spotted chasing a Labrador retriever off North River Road. The dog's owner reached for a shotgun, took aim and pulled the trigger.
"We didn't know if it was hit or not, but we had an investigator go out and confirm the footprints," Tognazzini said.
That first sighting no longer seemed unlikely. However, time went by, and officials at the Department of Fish and Game assumed the capybara had died.
Last month, the resilient critter resurfaced, this time at a water treatment plant about a mile away from the gun fight.
"We discovered it one morning in our water ponds," said Chris Slater, a division supervisor at the Paso Robles Wastewater Treatment Plant (map). "They came up to tell me, and I said, 'Oh come on, you guys, what have you been smoking down there?'"
Workers told KSBY that the animal was comparable to a small pig and would have come up to their knees. Capybaras stand about 2 feet tall and communicate with "barks, chirps, whistles, huffs, and purrs," according to the San Diego Zoo.
"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,'" said Slater.
Unlike the typical blurry photos of such mythic, Bigfoot-esque creatures, the team at the plant managed to snap a few crystal-clear photographs (embedded, above).
Since the July 22 sighting, the animal hasn't been seen again, although some suspect he'll be back soon. The treatment plant has six wastewater pools, and capybaras are highly aquatic animals.
Tognazzini thinks the capybara was once someone's exotic pet that managed to escape.
"If it's seen more few more times, we would try to live trap the animal," said Tognazzini. "If we had a reasonable chance, we would do so."
Fish and Game may never get such a chance. Based on the frequency of sightings, this highly nocturnal animal knows how to stay out of the limelight.