Airdate: Nov 14, 2002
Scientist: Alexine Keuroghlian
Peccaries roam in herds across the wetlands of the Pantanal in Brazil; and these shy, pig-like animals are vital to the health of this vast ecosystem.
They travel in herds, look a bit like wild boars and they're one of the most important seed dispersers in tropical ecosystems. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
"A peccary is considered an ungulate, which are animals that have hooves. Theyâ€™re pig-like, and theyâ€™re fruit eating animals that reside in the tropical region."
Alexine Keuroghlian is field director of the Conservation Research Center in Brazil's Pantanal, a region similar to the Everglades. She tells us that there are three species of peccaries -- one of them endangered -- and they're found from the southwestern United States all the way to Argentina.
"They move in herds, fifty individuals or so. In some areas they can be with a hundred individuals. And they have an interesting, social structure. where there is basically a one to one sex ration. That means one male for every female. You canâ€™t really tell the difference between a male and female if youâ€™re just looking at them from a certain distance. So theyâ€™re like one big extended family. Theyâ€™re extremely important in the maintenance of the biodiversity of whatever habitat they are in, because they are primarily fruit eating animals, and they also disperse seeds. And because theyâ€™re in such large numbers, their impact is even larger. I mean if you took peccaries out of the ecosystem, youâ€™re going to see a rapid change in the vegetation. When we think of peccaries, its not one individual, itâ€™s fifty to a hundred individuals acting. So itâ€™s just because of their, their quantity, they really are very important in the ecosystem."
Peccaries are extremely shy animals. If you're lucky enough to get close to one, they'll likely make an unusual sound, which we'll hear in our next program.
Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation I'm Jim Metzner.