Meet the world’s largest rodent: the capybara. They’re semi-aquatic, meaning they love to swim, and have webbed feet designed for that exact purpose. It also means they can swim underwater for up to five minutes without surfacing for air. They grow up to 2 feet, or 60cm, in size, and can weigh anywhere between 35 to 66 kilograms. They’re native to South America, where they’re known by many names, including carpincho, chigüiro, and capivara.

They’re widely adored on the internet, primarily for their friendly yet calm demeanour that allows them to make friends of all species, including cats, rabbits, deer, turtles, as well as their close relatives, guinea pigs. They’re also known for enjoying Japanese hot springs, a country they are not native to but nonetheless have taken by storm.

But recently, they’ve been making headlines for an entirely different reason: home invasions. Okay, they aren’t stealing into people’s homes in the dead of night to swipe their valuables, but they have been accused of invading one exclusive Argentinian neighbourhood in large numbers and committing crimes such as soiling lawns and “bullying” pets.

Nordelta is a gated community in the north of Buenos Aires, and was established in 1999. While it is now home to titans of industry and sports stars, it was once home to wildlife like the capybaras, who are at home in the wetland environment provided by the nearby River Paraná.

While residents of the enclave have issued calls for the capybaras to be castrated or relocated, supporters both in Argentina and around the globe have rallied around the rodents, holding them up as a symbol of class divisions and environmentalism.

One longtime resident, real estate broker Gustavo Iglesias, told the Wall Street Journal“I’m not anti-capybara; I want to scratch their cute little bellies as much as anyone else.

“The problem is that their population is out of control, and people are too scared to do anything. No one wants to look like they’re opposed to nature.”

Iglesias complains that his lakeside garden is used by roughly a dozen invading capybaras as a toilet daily, but the last straw was when his dog Lucho came home sporting two deep gashes “that looked like the handiwork of rodent incisors.”

Critics of the neighbourhood include environmentalists like Enrique Viale, who said, “wealthy real-estate developers with government backing have to destroy nature in order to sell clients the dream of living in the wild – because the people who buy those homes want nature, but without the mosquitoes, snakes or carpinchos”. Viale told The Guardian that describing the takeover as an invasion would not be accurate, saying, “It’s the other way round: Nordelta invaded the ecosystem of the carpinchos.” Viale has been part of a decade-long campaign to get congress to pass a law protecting the wetlands from further development.

While wealthy residents may not appreciate the return of the capybaras to their native habitat, people from around Argentina have taken to visiting the neighbourhood just to encounter the friendly creatures. The locals should be happy about this – tourism is good for the economy, after all.

Image: Magali Cervantes/AFP via Getty Images

This article first appeared on Over60.