peccary (Dicotyles pecari) is one of two species of peccary found
in Central America. It is larger than its sibling species, the
collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu), and more specific in its habitat
requirements. Throughout its range, from southern Mexico to northern
Argentina, the white-lipped peccary is confined to undisturbed
primary rainforest. The collared peccary, the larger range of
which extends further north into the southern United States, is
able to utilize a variety of habitats from semi-desert to rainforest.
A third species, the Chacoan peccary (Catagonus wagneri), is restricted
to the Gran Chaco region of Paraguay, Bolivia and northwestern
Argentina. It is the largest of the three known species of peccary.
However, there are reports of a fourth species of peccary having
been discovered in the depths of the Amazon basin. This amazing
find awaits confirmation and published description - and even
more amazing is that this discovery includes twelve new species
of monkey, five new species of bird and a new specie of deer!
are often referred to as wild pigs. Indeed, the local name for
the white-lipped peccary is chancho de monte. However, the resemblance
is merely superficial. Peccaries are not true pigs. The similarity
between true pigs and peccaries is an example of convergent evolution,
resulting from the fact that they both evolved independently to
occupy similar ecological niches - omnivorous rooters. True pigs
(family Suidae) - which include the wart hog of Africa, the babirusa
of Sulawasi, the wild boar of Eurasia (from which the domestic
pig is derived), among others - evolved in the Old World along
parallel lines to the Peccaries, (family Tayassuidae), in the
New World. An obvious difference between the two families is that
in true pigs (especially pronounced in males), the upper canine
teeth grow outwards and upwards forming clearly visible tusks.
The upper canines of peccaries grow downwards and are not visible
from the outside when their mouths are closed. In both families,
the enlarged canine teeth represent formidable weapons.
long, self-sharpening canines and irascible temperaments, white-lipped
peccaries are considered to be the most dangerous mammal in the
Neotropics. Their redoubtable reputation is compounded by the
fact that white-lipped peccaries live in large herds of 30 to
Corcovado National Park it is not uncommon to encounter herds
of white-lipped peccaries of fifty or more individuals. And these
encounters are charged with tension. It is without doubt one of
the most sensational experiences to find oneself amid a herd of
these belligerent beasts. Beyond a certain threshold distance,
white-lipped peccaries will generally run off when alerted to
human presence. However, within that threshold distance they will
stand their ground, and sometimes charge. Under these circumstances
it is advisable to climb a tree, if possible - if not, then stand
bristly hairs erect along their backs, it is the males who will
most vigorously defend the herd, especially if there are young
present. The commotion they create, grunting, barking and loud,
spine-chilling clacking of their formidable canine teeth, is enough
to make one's own hairs stand on end. And with the air around
rank with their fetid stench, it is rather as though all hell
has broken loose!
give birth to relatively few young - from one to three, but usually
twins - which are well developed and able to run around soon after
birth. This contrasts with true pigs, which give birth to large
litters of helpless young.
between true pigs and peccaries is that the latter uses scent
to maintain herd cohesion and to mark herd territories. Peccaries
have large scent glands on their backs towards their rumps from
which they secrete an oily musk with a strong, pungent smell.
Very often it is their smell, described as skunk-like, that initially
alerts one to the presence of peccaries.
like true pigs, belong to the order Artiodactyla, the even-toed
ungulates. They share a common ancestry, therefore, with herbivorous
mammals such as deer, goats, sheep, antelope, camels, and cattle.
However, peccaries, and true pigs, show an evolutionary tendency
toward carnivory. Indeed, up until about 10 million years ago
a huge, one-ton, predatory pig terrorized the plains of North
The diet of
white-lipped peccaries is varied, and includes seeds, nuts, fruit,
roots, and vegetation. They will also eat carrion, and live animals
such as insects and their grubs, and even snakes. Their powerful
jaws make them the only herbivorous mammals able to exploit the
hard nuts of the raphia palm, a particularly favored food source
for white-lipped peccaries.
and collared peccaries exist side-by-side throughout much of their
range, and they may easily be confused with one another. The two
species differ in size - up to 75 lb and 22 inches at the shoulder
for the white-lipped peccary, and 45 lb and 18 inches for the
collared peccary - but unless seen together for comparison, size
may not be a reliable means of distinguishing the species. Herd
size and/or coloration are more reliable distinguishing characteristics:
white-lipped peccaries forage in large herds, rarely less than
20 individuals and usually many more. The fur on the cheek and
lower jaw of this species is cream/white. Collared peccaries,
in contrast, forage in much smaller herds, usually less than 10,
and rarely more than 15 individuals. While their grizzled, dark
gray/brown coloration is similar to the former species, the collared
peccary lacks the white chin patch. Although not always noticeable
in the field, the collared peccary has a cream-colored collar
running from its shoulder to its chest.
peccaries are placed by the Convention on International Trade
of Endangered Species (CITES) in appendix II - threatened! Because
of their narrow habitat preference - undisturbed primary rainforest
- white-lipped peccaries are particularly vulnerable to habitat
destruction. As a result of widespread deforestation, populations
of white-lipped peccaries in Central America have become fractionated,
and reproductively isolated. And, as if this is not bad enough,
these peccaries are great to eat and mercilessly hunted. In fact,
it is hunting that threatens the still sizable herds of white-lipped
peccaries in Corcovado National Park - the largest population
of the specie left in Costa Rica.
a biologist, wilderness expedition guide, and the president of
Osa Aventura. You can contact him at at firstname.lastname@example.org