For years, the Vatican referred to capybaras as "fish"

What does this mean for Venezuelans enjoying the rodent as a ‘meat-free’ dish?
Nergis Firtina
Capybara, Pantanal wetlands, Brazil
Capybara, Pantanal wetlands, Brazil


A giant rodent originally from South America, the Capybara, is the most oversized living of its kind. With a heavy, barrel-shaped body and, short head, reddish-brown fur on the upper part of its body, the capybara was categorized as "fish" by the Vatican for years.

Capybaras are great swimmers and like being in the water. They can hold their breath underwater for around five minutes, and to stay cool, they frequently take naps in the water or beside riverbanks. They can swim swiftly away from possible predators underwater thanks to their webbed feet and streamlined facial features, as per the IFL Science.

On a technicality, the animals can receive legal protection so Christians can consume them during Lent. The Bible says that eating specific types of meat during Lent, which honors the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, was forbidden during the medieval ages.

For years, the Vatican referred to capybaras as "fish"
Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris).

Following European immigrants' colonization of the Americas, pastors in Venezuela contacted the Vatican to inquire about possibly classifying this new animal, which had webbed feet and a fishy flavor, as a fish so that they might continue to eat it throughout the Lenten season. You simply can't get those 40 days of eating cuddly rodents back, IFL Science continues.

"Even though most people these days think the restriction is about eating meat, the dietary restriction wasn’t about mammals & birds versus fish, but about land versus water," explained Dolly Jørgensen, historian of the environment. Thus, other animals that spent their time in the water qualified as aquatic and could be eaten at Lent," she added.

A letter was sent to the Vatican

As explained by Atlas Obscura, clergy members from Venezuela sent a letter to the Vatican with a particular request sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries. A creature that lived in the sea had webbed feet and tasted like fish had been found.

To be able to eat the animal during the following days of meat-free fasting, they requested from the Pope that it be given the status of a fish as Lent approached. The Catholic Church approved in writing, and the capybara became a much-desired centerpiece for many Lenten dinner tables.

Venezuelans have acquired a fondness for the massive aquatic rodent. The demand was so great that unlawful poaching threatened to wipe out the population. Capybaras, on the other hand, are no longer endangered thanks to government regulation and rapid reproduction.

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