It is amazing to me that I’m the one working on archiving JBZ.  To be honest I hated studying history in school.  All those dry boring stories and memorizing dates just wasn’t (and still isn’t) my ‘thing’.  To be honest I’m probably learning more about history from just glancing at these old papers then I ever did in any history class.


This brings me to today’s blog.  It isn’t really about JBZ.  But in a round about way it is. It’s one of those stories I found just glancing around the Press. I have worked in our South American run including the tapir, screamer, maned wolf and capybara.  And it always seems to me that when up on the board walk in front of those exhibits The Questions I always hear are “Whatizit?” or “What is that thing?”  So imagine my surprise when looking through the Press of June, 1923 I found an article titled “ZOO GETS SOMETHING IN CAGE, BUT WHATIZIT?”  At first, from the title, I believed I was on to something about JBZ, but as I read I discovered that Lincoln Park in Chicago had received a mystery rodent called a ‘diononys’ instead of a ‘rugupus’.


I had never heard of those animals, and when I showed the article around work none of the rest of animal staff had either.  So we did what any truly curious would do, we went on line.  The first time I put in ‘rugupus’ the computer in all its wisdom corrected my spelling and led us to Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo.  OK, so when that didn’t work so I tried ‘diononys’. This led us to Dionysus the Greek god of wine.


Next stop was back to the library and the information counter.  I had hoped that there might be an old South American mammal book that could shed some light.  Fortunately they had a more current book that showed a photo of a 3 feet long and 30# rodent called a pacarana with the scientific name Dinomys branickii.  Well I guess that diononys is kinda close to Dinomys and since it had only been ‘discovered’ some 50 years before in 1873.  And since the article did mention it was spotted and the pacarana has spots, I figured that that was one mystery down and one to go.


After talking to the ladies at the information desk I found a follow-up article in the middle of August, 1923.  The answer to the rugupus is still not totally answered because this article doesn’t mention them, BUT (and here’s the connection to JBZ) this article does talk about the capydora.  The capydora, was “…a large rodent, is somewhat like the beaver but larger.”  This pretty much matches the description of the capybara.  It made me wonder if we’re the ones messing up the capybara’s name or if they were.


All of this reminds me that many of our animals were once newly ‘discovered’ and we were the ones asking “What is that thing?”.   Either way I have a feeling that I’m always going to answering the question “Whatizit?”


About Andrea Perry

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Andrea recently retired from a 37 year carreer at John Ball Zoo (if you count her time as a volunteer).   She has worked in almost every area of the Zoo, but prefers large mammals.  

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#1 Jude Avery said:

Andy, What a great article! Interesting tidbits paid off with your research. Thank you!

#2 Sunny Sjaarda said:

Great article Andy. Only you would ever be looking at a old newspaper like that. Also interesting about you as a little girl on a farm. Just another thing I didn't know about you. sunny

#3 Nancy Heineman said:

Maybe you missed your calling as a writer! I didn't know you had another talent besides zoology. What a great time I had reading this!

#4 Sandy Ponsetto said:

I never liked history much either; memorizing wars, dates, politics... meh, who cares? But, like you, I have been sucked into studying history at work and finding it kind of fun. It's like a scavenger hunt-- finding clues and trying to find the answers to solve a puzzle.

#5 Leslie Beukema-Sotala said:

All that and opera too! Good to read about you, the critters, and JBZ.

#6 Juna said:

The Capybara is my favourite animal at the zoo - but I always feel sad to see him because he is alone. Being animals that live in herds, is there a reason he has no buddies?

#7 Andrea Perry said:

We actually have two capybaras, a male and a female.  They are generally together, but we suspect that the female is pregnant so we’ve separated them temporarily.  The male can be quite aggressive with the newborns.  When and if she does give birth and if everything is good, we will definitely make it public! 

#8 Roselyn Raap said:

Great story! 1923, almost a century ago; amazing what we have learened since then. These blogs are wonderful because they keep us up to date on all the amazing animals and amimal related facts out there. Thanks I just realized I had my email address wrong the first time I posted this so I'm doing it again with the correct one, so sorry.

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