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3.13 Peccaries

3.13.1 Tayassu pecari (White-lipped peccary)
3.13.2 Tayassu tajacu (Collared peccary)

Peccaries, primitive members of the order of Artiodactyla, are gregarious forest dwellers found only in tropical and subtropical America. Two species, Tayassu pecari and T. tajacu are widely distributed. A third, Catagonus wagneri, endemic in the Gran Chaco area of Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, was only identified as a living species in 1975 (372, 623). Tayassu spp. are the top game animal in the neotropical forest.

3.13.1 Tayassu pecari (White-lipped peccary)

Vernacular names: Báquiro, báquiro careto, báquiro cahete blanco (Venezuela), cafuche (Colombia), cariblanco (Costa Rica), coche de monte (Guatemala), chancho de trompa (Bolivia), huangana (Peru), jabalí de labios blancos (Mexico), pecarí labiado (Argentina), pingo (Suriname), puerco de monte (Guatemala, Panama), proco do mato, queixada (Brazil), senso (Mexico).

Geographical variation and distribution: T. pecari ranges from Oaxaca and Veracruz in southern Mexico to Ecuador in the west, most of South America in the east and down to northeastern Argentina (141, 372); there are five recognized subspecies (92, 253).

Elevational range: T. pecari is primarily a lowland species, although it has also been reported in mountain areas up to 1 700 m (344).

Size and weight: The total adult length of the white-lipped peccary is 90-135 cm. They stand approximately 65 cm at the shoulder, weighing 27-40 kg and sometimes more (287, 294, 336, 372). There is no external sexual dimorphism, but the canine teeth of the male are longer than those of the female (635).

Habitat: The species prefers the vast primary tropical moist forests, but in some areas white-lipped peccaries are also found in deciduous, montane or thorn forests. They avoid disturbed habitats and the proximity of humans (17, 134, 315, 336, 372, 404, 520, 597).

Abundance: T. pecari seems to be fairly abundant in vast and untouched primary forest, judging by its rank among the game animals (Tables 5 and 9) and by hide exports (Table 16, 296). Some estimated abundances are 1.57/km2 in the Mato Grosso (520) and 1.06/km2 in the Paraguayan Chaco (318). The white-lipped peccary's gregarious and nomadic habits make it particularly difficult to estimate population densities.

Behaviour: T. pecari live in large packs, frequently numbering up to 100 to 200 animals of both sexes (182, 286, 315, 336, 382). The packs cover a great deal of territory, moving in a broad compact formation through the forest, unlike T. tajacu which trots along in single file down trails. They stop to feed for several hours and then continue their march, often in straight lines (17, 315); the reach of these treks is unknown.

T. pecari may be active at any hour, but is probably more so at twilight (161,315, 372, 382). These noisy animals can be heard from 100-200 m away (161, 315, 560). Their presence is also given away by the powerful musky odour emitted by the dorsal scent gland, and by their tracks in the undergrowth. They are widely reputed to confront and attack their animal or human predators in packs (17, 258, 287, 296, 379, 382).

Feeding habits: Primarily vegetarian, they snuffle through the leaf litter and surface soil around tree trunks in search of food. Their basic diet consists of an array of seeds and fruits, but they also eat roots and other plant parts (e.g. Heliconia stems), rounding out their diet with invertebrates and small vertebrates (182, 287, 296, 315, 318, 382). Kiltie (315, 318) stresses the importance in the diet of the hard seeds of certain palms (Astrocarym, Iriartea, Socratea which only the peccaries' powerful jaws can crack (317).

Reproduction: They apparently breed year-round (287, 296, 336, 382). The usual length of the oestrus cycle is 18-21 days and the gestation period of 158 days (508) usually produces two young. The newborn peccaries are precocious and can follow the pack within a few hours. The herds observed by Kiltie (315) in the Peruvian Amazon never had a proportion of juveniles greater than 20 percent.

Hunting: Tayassu pecari is a dangerous animal to hunt because it is both nomadic and gregarious. Hunting parties are probably the commonest technique, and indigenous people often hunt in groups (560). The big noisy herds are fairly easy to detect when they are present in an area, and often several animals can be killed before they decide to flee, but it may be a long time before the next contact with a herd. Hunters may surprise peccaries that come down to drink or to wallow in the mud, or they may simply follow their tracks. Peccaries often face and kill dogs and can also be a danger to hunters (17, 32, 161, 182, 296, 560). Hunters usually remove the scent gland from their kill immediately so as not to spoil the taste of the meat.

Products: Peccaries are primarily hunted for their white, abundant meat, a preferred food. Peccaries are the major subsistence game animal, in terms of weight, for both indigenous peoples (nearly 20 percent of the average total, Table 6) and for campesinos (42 percent, Table 10) in forest areas. The hides are also of commercial value and rank second on the wildlife hide export statistics (Table 16), although their low unit value does mean a modest economic return. The fresh or salted meat is in any case the main product, though the hide may bring in a little additional income (163, 496).

The stretched hides are generally sold dried. Even in the Peruvian Amazon where there is a deep-seated tradition of peccary hide utilization, a substantial portion are discarded (296). Surveys by Hwindberg-Hansen (op. cit), showed that the average hunter kills about 22 specimens a year, an indication that peccary hunting may be the principal occupation of some people in the Peruvian Amazon.

Management: Tayassu pecari is a highly persecuted, fairly-easy-to-detect animal, and several may be taken at once when a herd shows up in the area. Kiltie (315) postulates that its gregarious and nomadic habits and group defence stance may constitute a good anti-predator strategy vis-a-vis the big cats which are its main enemies. These same gregarious habits also make it more vulnerable to the human hunter. In any case, a herd of white-lipped peccaries requires large tracts of primary habitat - some 100 km2 per herd according to Kiltie (319). The species disappears rapidly from areas where it is constantly hunted, and as a primary forest inhabitant it is highly susceptible to habitat disturbance (17, 32, 287, 294, 336, 382, 543, 597, 609). T. pecari can maintain its status as the main subsistence game animal only so long as new areas where white-lipped peccaries are still common (296) remain for hunting parties to penetrate.

The value and delicate situation of this species make it a management priority. Consideration should be given to establishing sustainable harvest rates. Effective measures to prevent overexploitation and ensure habitat protection in special areas should also be considered. Studies of wild T. pecari biology and ecology are also urgently needed: the available biological information is highly fragmentary and, in the main, anecdotal (161, 372), offering no solid springboard for rational management practices.

Captive breeding: T. pecari has been maintained in zoo collections but its unpredictable and irascible temperament make it difficult to manage. Reproduction in captivity is low and the male often kills its offspring. The record longevity in captivity is 13 years (138, 215, 432, 560).

3.13.2 Tayassu tajacu (Collared peccary)

Vernacular names: Báquiro cinchado (Venezuela), caitetú (Brazil), coche de monte (Guatemala, Mexico), chácaro (Venezuela), jabalí de collar (Mexico), pakira (Suriname), pecari menor (Argentina), porco do mato (Brazil), quenk (Trinidad), saino (Colombia, Panama), sajino (Peru), taiteto (Argentina), taitetú (Bolivia), zahino (Costa Rica).

Geographical variation and distribution: Collared peccaries range from Arizona and Texas in the United States through Mexico and Central America all the way to Piura, Peru, on the western side of the Andes, and over most of eastern South America to Paraguay and northern Argentina. There are nine recognized subspecies in Northern and Central America and five in South America, but there are no recent updates on the geographical variability of T. tajacu (also known as Dicotyles tajacu) (92, 253, 372).

Elevational range: The principal collared peccary habitats are at lower altitudes but the animals may also be found in montane areas up to 1 500 - 2 000 m (245, 259, 287).

Size and weight: There is no sexual dimorphism by size or colour. The total adult length is about 90 cm (80-97 cm), shoulder height is 40-45 cm while the weight of 14-24 kg averages 20 kg (294, 336, 372, 382). The average weight of a sample of 27 specimens in the collection of the Rancho Grande Biological Station in Venezuela was 16.7 kg, with a standard deviation of 3.44 kg and a maximum weight of 22.5 kg. In Arizona, USA, collared peccaries can reach 89-97 cm, stand 46-56 cm at the shoulder and weigh 14-27 kg (559). Bodily size may vary by subspecies, region and/or type of habitat, but there is very little on this in the literature.

Habitat: T. tajacu is versatile in its habitats, ranging from tropical moist forests and montane forests to thorn forests, semi-desert brushwood and secondary regrowth. The greatest abundances seem to be in deciduous tropical forests (109, 134, 287, 336, 372, 382).

The availability of water is a key environmental requirement: the collared peccary may meet its water requirements in some habitats by feeding on succulants.

Abundance: Collared peccaries are one of the most abundant big-game animals over vast areas of Latin America, the hunting statistics (Tables 5, 9 and 16) and various field estimates report. Some examples are 6.7 and 9.3 specimens/km2 in Barro Colorado Island, Panama (175, 233), 1.9 specimens/km2 in the moist forest of Guatopo, Venezuela, 12 specimens/km2 in deciduous forest in a site on the Venezuelan Llanos.(174), 49 individuals/km2 at the same site reported by Castellanos (169), 0.8 - 1.6/km2 in a site in the Mato Grosso, Brazil (520) and a total of 0.5 - 2 groups/km2 in Manu National Park in the Peruvian Amazon (315). All these estimates do come from protected areas with low hunting pressure, however.

Behaviour: Collared peccaries live in permanent groups consisting of adults of both sexes and their offspring (5276, 558). Group size seems to vary with the region, population density and/or habitat type from 2 to 10/km (average 2.4) in the Peruvian Amazon (315) and 6-15, with peaks of up to 30 in Texas and Arizona (90, 427, 526, 559) and up to 36 (25-54) in deciduous and gallery forests in the Venezuelan llanos (109, 110). The groups may disperse into smaller social units, particularly when feed resources become scarce (109, 559).

They occupy permanent home ranges with an exclusive core area and a certain amount of peripheral overlapping with neighbouring groups. The home range of groups studied in the Venezuelan Llanos varied in size from 35 ha in the dry season to 100 ha in the rainy season (109), and from 52 to 313 ha in semi-desert habitats in Texas and Arizona (179, 526). They mark off their territory with faeces and the musk of the dorsal scent gland, and they also use this gland to mark one another. They can apparently be active at any time of the day, but usually move more in the morning and afternoon and rest in the shade or in a muddy spot in the hottest midday hours (109, 141, 161, 182, 560). When it becomes very hot they mainly move at night, usually in single file along well-established trials. Their keenest senses are hearing and smell, while sight seems to be less important, making them fairly easy to follow (161, 182, 287, 315). They rumble off at full speed emitting their characteristic grunts at the first sign of a human being.

Feeding habits: Tayassu tajacu consumes vast quantities of plant food, rounding out the fare with invertebrates and the odd small invertebrate found in the underbrush. They feed on succulants (Opuntia, Agave) in semi-arid zones and on roots, tubers, grasses and other herb plants, Prosopis pods and browse (161, 336, 559). In tropical forests, tree fruits and seeds (Astrocarym, Copaifera, Enterolobium, Ficus, Guazuma, Inga, Spondias, etc.) make up the basic diet (182, 287, 318, 546).

T. tajacu's diet partially overlaps with T. pecari's but the factors enabling the sympatry of the two species are still not known. T. tajacu is particularly good at finding and digging out underground roots and tubers 10 cm or deeper in the ground (182, 315, 287). They sometimes follow troops of monkeys, scooping up the fruits that fall to the ground (499). They also raid various crops such as maize, sugarcane and cassava and can cause considerable damage (66, 287, 336, 382). They have a complex stomach, consisting of a gastric pouch with blindsacs which makes it easy for them to digest fibrous foods (331).

Reproduction: Collared peccaries can breed year-round (66, 287, 315, 336, 382). Births are more frequent in July and August in the southern United States (427, 559) and in March and April in the Venezuelan Llanos (109). Two parturition peaks are reported in southern Mexico, the first in January-February and the second in September-October (17). The males are continuously sexually active from the age of one year, and the females polyoestrus with a 17-30 day cycle, including the sexually receptive period which lasts about 3 days (557, 560). The gestation period lasts 145 days (142-148 days) (341, 557, 560). Post-partum oestrus can occur within eight days (557). The females usually give birth to two young, but there may be only one or as many as four. The precocious newborn peccaries weigh from 600-700 g, and are already able to follow the mother on the day they are born. T. tajacu is the most prolific American ungulate: its estimated annual reproduction rate is 20 percent (556, 560).

Age and growth: Young animals acquire the adult pelage in about ten weeks, with well-fed ones growing at a rate of 45 g/day, and reaching adult size in nine to ten months (559). The tooth eruption sequence permits age estimates up to two years (320), where as annulations of cementum in the lower incisors offer a good criterion for age estimates in older peccaries (352). The oldest recorded peccary in the wild lived 15 years (352) but peccaries can survive in captivity as long as 24 years (138). These data are all from populations in the southern United States.

Hunting: Hunting with dogs seems to be the method of choice. The dogs locate the peccaries, driving them until they turn and take a stand to defend the group in some cave, canyon or hollow tree, using their hooves and tusks. Meanwhile, the hunters, who have caught up, kill the peccaries with shotguns, machetes or clubs (32, 258, 270, 287, 295, 336, 379, 543). Hunters may also lie in wait near fruit trees, seed plots, fords or saltlicks (32, 238). Peccaries are hunted by day. As with T. pecari, the hunters immediately remove the scent gland from their kill.

Products: Collared peccaries are mainly hunted for their white, abundant, palatable meat. Statistically, T. tajacu ranks third by weight in forest area diets (Tables 6 and 10). As the species is found in a greater variety of habitats, it probably exceeds the contribution of T. pecari in drier habitats, secondary forest and other disturbed areas.

The hide of the collared peccary is preferred to T. pecari's and heads the list of exports (Table 16). The cured hides are used mainly to make gloves (295, 610). Hvindberg-Hansen (295) estimated that almost all peccary hides from the Peruvian Amazon turned up on the market, but that hides were simply discarded in other places, such as Venezuela. Peccary hunting can be a major occupation in some forest areas: the figures from Peru are emblematic - the kill figures averaged 118 per hunter per year, with a record of 600 for one hunter (295).

Management: Taking the continent as a yardstick, collared peccary populations seem relatively stable (245, 295, 372). Hunting is authorized, with seasonal and bag limits, in Costa Rica, Mexico, the Peruvian Amazon, Suriname and Venezuela. It is prohibited in many other countries. However, the collared peccary is primarily a subsistence-hunting target, and is intensely, continuously and increasingly persecuted. This is compounded by the deleterious effect of habitat deforestation (17, 66, 238, 336, 382, 597).

The management of this very widespread, relatively abundant and nutritionally and economically valuable species deserves priority attention. Management is certainly facilitated by the collared peccary's adaptability to a wide range of diets and habitats, including disturbed areas, its gregarious nature, the fact that it is fairly sedentary and its (for an ungulate) fairly high reproductive rate. The first step, then, should be to establish measures to avoid overexploitation, followed by studies of collared peccary ecology and productivity in the neotropics and the harvesting and monitoring of pilot populations on a trial basis.

Captive breeding: T. tajacu is easily tamed when reared from an early age. They are often seen as pets in villages in tropical America. The animal is quite adaptable to confinement in zoos and captive breeding centres and is a good breeder (138, 215, 287, 341, 328). Some authors recommend sustained production in captivity as an alternative to swine breeding, but this seems of dubious economic viability.

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