Oyen the cat moved in with Zoo Negara's capybaras sometime during the COVID-19 pandemic — and has been a huge draw for visitors ever since.
Amid the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, a stray orange cat wandered into Zoo Negara, Malaysia’s national zoo, and began living among a herd of capybaras. Zoo officials aren’t entirely sure when, exactly, the cat moved in — but it seems like it will be sticking around.
As Insider reported, the ginger cat named Oyen has become a permanent fixture of Zoo Negara — one so popular that the zoo’s vice president Rosly Rahmat Ahmat Lana said that “95 percent of the visitors are here just to see Oyen.”
Zoo officials believe Oyen was abandoned nearby during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as lockdowns across the world required people to spend more time in their homes. This also coincided with a substantial drop in the zoo’s revenue.
According to The Star, however, Oyen has proven to be a blessing in disguise, as visitors flock to see him coexisting happily with the capybaras.
“When we first discovered him, we saw he was very friendly with the capybaras. He would eat with them,” said senior zookeeper Mohd Taufik Yazidbustami. “At that time, we were also feeding the capybaras bread, which the cat ate.”
It may seem like an odd pairing — capybaras are, after all, the largest rodent in the world — but Oyen and the capybaras seem to have formed a friendship of sorts.
“The cat is very happy,” Rosly said. “Then suddenly, the public noticed that he eats together with the capybaras, that it is something special. Oyen has become so popular.”
Noticing that Oyen’s relationship with the capybara was garnering a lot of attention from visitors, the zoo decided to capitalize on this unique bond via social media. Since then, numerous video clips of Oyen interacting with the capybaras have gone viral, especially on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.
Capybaras are highly social animals and tend to get along with most other animals, including dogs and ducks. Meanwhile, orange cats like Oyen are widely considered extremely friendly and cute — if a little lacking in intelligence.
Oyen became such an integral part of the zoo that in June 2023, zoo officials decided to put his name on the capybara enclosure. It now reads “Capybaras & Oyen.”
Not everyone who visits Zoo Negara is aware of Oyen’s presence before they arrive. In these instances, it seems to be a happy surprise for visitors.
“We did not know about it but it’s pretty adorable,” Seth Deister, a tourist from Seattle, told The Star. “We’re here to see the capybaras and the cat is just a bonus. They must be very nice to live with, otherwise, the cat will run away, right?”
But while Oyen seemed to have taken to the capybaras almost immediately, he wasn’t always inclined to be warm towards humans. Thankfully, he has since warmed up to human interactions, which is a positive for the zoo staff monitoring the cat’s health.
In addition, zoo staff are looking to find a partner for Oyen, hoping the two might mate and establish a capybara-inclined cat bloodline.
“Unlike before, Oyen is now docile and approachable,” Rosly said. “Should Oyen fall ill one day, it will be easy for us to hold and treat it.”
After reading about Oyen the cat and his unique relationship with the capybaras, learn all about seven places in the world that have become completely overrun by cats. Or, read about a recent study that showed that cats can indeed understand humans.