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The Pittsburgh Zoo Is Dark, And Full Of Capybaras

Game of Thrones fans have three new reasons to visit the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium’s new Jungle Odyssey exhibit.

Joining the exhibit are three 4-and-a-half-year-old capybaras – who can weigh 150 pounds and are known as the world’s largest rodent – all named after an interesting slew of Thrones characters, including Lysa, Varys and Melisandre.

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Veterinary student Nicole Goldsmith, left, takes Lysa's pulse during her exam on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Lead mammal keeper Kathy Suthard said she chose the names based on the dynamics she observed between the three animals.

The only male, Varys — whose Thrones' namesake character is described as a eunuch — was neutered before joining the Pittsburgh Zoo.

“So Varys was the obvious choice,” Suthard said, with a laugh.

Suthard said the two female capybaras don’t always quite get along with their male counterparts, so, she said, “We chose the two evil queens."

The capybaras, native to South America, are new to the Pittsburgh Zoo and will live in the new Jungle Odyssey exhibits.   

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Dr. Ginger Sturgeon, director of animal care, checks Lysa's teeth. She said capybaras' teeth never stop growing, they just get worn down with use.

The zoo acquired the three capybaras from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans last year. They've lived out of the public eye until zoo keepers introduced the three mammals to the public Thursday, while giving Lysa a checkup ahead of her to the new exhibit.  

Lysa received her rabies vaccination, got X-rays and had her teeth checked out by Dr. Ginger Sturgeon, director of animal care.

Sturgeon said once in the exhibit, they'll likely spend a lot of time in the water, where capybaras are often found lounging and keeping cool. 

"They just kind of hunker down in the water, hoping you don't see them," she said. 

Lysa, Varys and Melisandre will join giant anteaters, ocelots and a pigmy hippo in the Jungle Odyssey exhibits. They’re expected to open this summer. 

Sarah Kovash previously worked as a web producer for KDKA-TV, as a freelance journalist for the Valley News Dispatch covering local government throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and at NPR station KPBS in San Diego.
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