Among the species of fauna that have found refuge in Tambopata National Reserve from the poaching, deforestation and other disruptions caused by human settlement and road building in many parts of the Amazon basin is the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari).
Tambopata National Reserve is, in fact, home to two species of this boar-like mammal. The much smaller collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) roams the rainforest in small herds, while the white-lipped peccary, known locally by its indigenous name “huangana”, may be found in herds of between 20 and 300 individuals.
With a range extending from Central to South America, the white-lipped peccary’s preferred habitat is dense, humid tropical rainforest, although it can also be found in savannah ecosystems. A typical herd anywhere between 20 and 300 individuals will require around 120 square kilometers of territory in order to function healthily. While the white-lipped peccary is omnivorous, it mostly feeds on fruits, nuts and grasses, with meat constituting a very small part of its diet. Peccary herds will roam across their enormous territories during the daytime in search of their preferred fruit diet, which is most abundant in primary forest like that of Tambopata National Reserve. This dietary preference means that peccaries are one of the major rainforest species readily observable during the rainy season, when trees are in fruit. As they roam, peccaries use calls, physical contact and their sense of smell to stay together.
An abundant presence of peccaries is an indicator of the health of local populations of the peccary’s predators and of the forest in general. Their main predators include jaguars, pumas and anacondas. In the wild, a peccary that can successfully avoid such predators will typically live for around 13 years.
White-lipped peccaries can grow to over a meter in length and stand up to 60 centimeters tall at the shoulder. Adults can weigh anything between 25 and 40 kilograms. Their bristly coat may be black or brown. It is the white markings below its snout and across its cheeks which give the white-lipped peccary its name. Because they give off a skunk-like odor, peccary herds can often be smelled in the forest before they are sighted.
Biologists describe the white-lipped peccary as an “ecological engineer”. Traveling in enormous herds as a way of protecting themselves from predators, they trample the forest floor, creating new niches for plants and at the same time dispersing the seeds contained in their diet across vast areas of forest.