This edition of Animals Anonymous will center on a distinctive family of Wild Pigs, the Peccaries. Native to central and south America
, there are three subspecies in the Peccary family we'll be taking a closer look at it.
The Collared Peccary
is classified as least concern by the IUCN, and can be found
in a wide territory of the tropical and subtropical Americas - from the northern parts of Argentina to the southern states of the USA. Where they occur in mountain ranges or the desert, they can withstand cold to near freezing temperatures, though they also occur in warm climates, making them highly adaptable.
They are highly social animals, living in herds from 6 to 30 individuals, though will split up in smaller groups to forage and to rest, which often occurs in burrows, caves or under logs. They forage in these sub-groups within herds, and are known to eat a variety of plants, fruits and seeds, though occasionally including small (in)vertebrates in their diet. Where they occur in rural areas, they are known to feed on crops and cultivated garden plants.
The size of herds and sub-groups in which Peccaries forage depends upon the type of growth in the habitat. They are found to occur in larger densities in types of habitat which can better sustain their numbers, though maximum herd sizes have been monitored as 10 individuals per square kilometer, with some arid landscapes only inhabiting a single Peccary per square kilometer.
Across their habitat they face habitat degradation and hunting, yet Collared Peccaries have been found to withstand the pressure better than the other Peccaries, presumably due to their relatively small herd size, and their adaptability to degraded habitats.
However, they are hunted on a large scale by subsistence hunters, though their hides are sold internationally.
The White-Lipped Peccarry
, classified as vulnerable by the IUCN and has a tad more restricted occurance than the Collared Peccary, occuring from southern Mexico to parts of Argentina . Though they thrive in tropical forests, they can be found in a wide range of habitats, from low-growth to tree cover. Their diet is similar to that of the Collared Peccary, but their herd size is bigger, ranging from 20 up to 300, though herds are rumoured to number 2000 individuals.
As such, a herd will occupy a wider territory, and to keep in contact in dense forests, they are known to make a lot of noise - though one of their trademarks is the strong odour they emit, which will alert anyone quickly to the presence of Peccaries. Depending on the available food, these Peccaries may split large herds into smaller ones, though they do not necessarily remain faithful to this composition, and individuals from both genders have been observed to switch herds.
Across the territory of these White-Lipped Peccaries, a worrisome trend has been discovered. In the Amazon and across their range, where conditions are perfect for the presence of Peccaries, and even within protected areas, they have gone nearly extinct. The cause for such local extinctions remains unclear, though is likely due to a combination of hunting and outbreak of diseases. Some hunting practices are particularly damaging to these Peccaries; as they occur in large herds, large numbers can be killed at once. Some herds may have trouble recovering from such depletion. Such can be deduced from current estimates that White-Lipped Peccaries as of 2005 only inhabit 21% of their historic range.
The third subspecies of Peccaries is the Chacoan Peccary
, listed as endangered by the IUCN and occurs mainly in the Gran Chaco ecosystem, which spans Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. The Gran Chaco is a hot and dry area with few treas but an abundance of spiny growth. The Chacoan peccary looks differently from the other subspecies, and has the honour of being the largest of the three. The subspecies was first described to science as a fossil relick in 1930, and was only found alive by scientists in 1971, though they have always been well-known to locals.
These Peccaries occur in herds of up to 20 individuals though more commonly number around 9 individuals and feed mainly on cacti and other prickly vegetation and roots, seeds, flowers and fruit and include small mammals in their diet.
Overall, the Chacoan Peccary faces several of the same threats as the other Peccary subspecies, existing of diseases, fragmentation of habitat and hunting. Though where the pelts of the other Peccaries are valuable, there is less interest in the Chacoans' pelts. The hunting that threatens this subspecies of Peccary as well as the others is not restricted to subsistence hunting by humans, but also consists of hunting by native predators such as big cats.
Habitat fragmentation and destruction takes on a new dimension for the Chacoan Peccary. Where the Amazon and other habitats of the other two Peccaries faces deforestation at alarming levels, the Gran Chaco faces even more severe threats. After the land was sold cheap, cattle ranches and soy farms have erupted across the landscape. This has altered the habitat and the abilities to forage for the peccaries, as well as less cover for predators, both animal and human. This change in their habitat, can be seen as a reduction by half of their territory in 13 years, from 2001 to 2014.
Loss of either of the three Peccary subspecies across their range has far-reaching effects on the landscape, as they are one of the top environmental engineers. By eating plants and dispersing their seeds, they create a diverse landscape, yet where they go missing from the landscape, this becomes more homogenous.
In the Amazon, Peccaries have been found to eat 250 different kinds of fruits, as such occupying a vital role in the dispersal of such plants. Additionally, they create wallows (mud patches) which they sustain for years, as such creating a perfect breeding ground and hunting place for several species of insects
, as well as providing a watering hole for various species such as Ocelots and Tapirs. Even in the height of the dry season, these wallows will subsist, but in the absence of Peccaries, these wallows may disappear from the rainforest. If this were to happen, all the species which are dependent on these wallows may face a crisis, as well as some plant species which thrive only as Peccaries control the growth of some species and the dispersal of others.
There is, however, always another side of the coin. Though Peccary numbers have gone down 30% in the last 18 years, they can become a nuisance where they are abundant. This is particularly felt by rural farmers whose crops are depleted by foraging Peccaries. This can result in great losses when for example White-Lipped Peccaries choose to raid your crop - as their herds come in large numbers, the damage can be huge. As such, some farmers urge for the return of large predators such as Jaguars, instead of needing to hunt the Peccaries themselves. Though cattle ranchers have long had unfavourable opinions concerning such big predators, crop farmers may feel this is the only way they can maintain their livelihood.