Together with the otter, which is also found in Tambopata National Reserve, the tayra (Eira barbara) is a member of the weasel family (Mustelidae). Known throughout the tropical forests of the Americas from Mexico all the way to northern Argentina, the tayra has short, powerful legs and a long, slender body around 60 to 70 centimeters (24 to 27 inches) long, with a bushy tail some 40 to 47 centimeters (15 to 19 inches) in length.
The tayra’s body and tail are covered in thick dark brown or black fur, while its face and neck are usually somewhat lighter in color, ranging from gray to light tan, with a similarly colored triangular marking on the chest that can be used for identifying individuals. White, or albino, tayras have also been recorded across their geographic range.
The tayra is usually found alone in the rainforest, including Tambopata National Reserve, or occasionally in small family groups of between three and four individuals. They are omnivores, feeding on small mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates, fruit and vegetation, as well as eggs and carrion. Tayras have poor eyesight, and will locate their prey by scent, chasing rather than stalking their victim once they have identified it. Active by both day and night, they make their dens in hollow trees or holes in the ground, and range across an extensive territory when foraging for food. Their main predators are harpy eagles.
Smaller and slightly less muscular than males, female tayras will usually give birth to two or three young, after a gestation period of 63 to 70 days. Typically, they will nurse their young for up to three months. Figures for life expectancy in the wild have not been established, although in captivity tayras have been known to live for up to eighteen years.
Despite their poor eyesight, tayras are remarkable for their tree climbing skills. The short, curved claws on their toes are adapted for climbing, while their long bushy tails give them added balance, and they have been observed in the wild descending along apparently smooth tree trunks from heights in excess of 40 meters (130 feet) all the way to the rainforest floor.
The name of the genus Eira, of which the tayra is the only member, is derived from the word for “foreign” or “strange” used in one of the indigenous languages spoken in the rainforests of southeastern Peru (where Tambopata National Reserve is situated), and the adjoining forests on the Bolivian side of the border. Because they are easily tamed, indigenous groups have traditionally kept tayras as domestic pets.