Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Unlikely Friendship Between a Pooch and the World's Largest Rodent

Story originally published July 2010 on www.tonic.com

Smile File straight from the Amazon. Tonic checks in with Hear the World's Global Explorers Trip six days into their journey.

Think of the epic friendships of all time, Butch and Sundance, Thelma and Louise, Turner and Hooch and now add, Charlie and Pacho.

Pacho is a black shepherd mix dog and Charlie is one of the world’s largest rodents, the capybara of the Peruvian Amazon, which I encountered on Hear the World’s Global Explorer’s expedition.

They’re both rescues. Charlie was saved from a family who killed his mother for meat and then tried to keep the rodent as a pet until he got much too big for their two room hut. To be fair, Charlie was the size of a typical guinea pig when he was a baby. Now he weighs more than 70 lbs. He was moved into the Explornapo Lodge, an eco-tourism site on the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon.

“We tried to release Charlie back into the wild but he kept coming back,” explains Explorama guide Cliver Rioja.

Pacho was similarly found in a village by an American volunteer affectionately called, Pachita, by the local river people. He was a 3-week-old puppy weighing only 2 lbs. She brought him to the lodge and the staff nursed him to health.

Now three years later, this unlikely pair is inseparable. During the days when the equatorial heat reaches around 100 degrees they dive into the Napo river together to cool off. Charlie, with his ineffectual rodent limbs can’t swim so he is relegated to the shallow end. If he goes out too far Pacho nudges him back to safety.

During meal times, the pair has a foolproof system whereby one of them guards the front of the kitchen and one guards the back, maximizing the potential for scraps which they divvy up with their very different snouts and share with each other.

Pacho vigilantly guards Charlie from a testy grey winged trumpeter (a bird that looks like a small ostrich) who wants to pick bugs off Charlie’s back with his beak. It hurts.

And at night when it is finally cool, they cuddle together beneath the stairs of the lodge's dining hall, bodies entwined, no clue they aren’t exactly the same.

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