In 2006, I started a job following breeding macaws in the rainforest of SE Peru. I was delighted to follow the daily routines of dedicated parents feeding their babies. The charm of the rainforest lies in the fact that everyone hides, as most animals are secretive and quiet. A wildlife biologist then has to assume a green camouflage and transform herself into a detective to find them inside this green universe.
Some animals can break the silence of the forest, in particular, white-lipped peccaries. My encounters with them were mostly peaceful, hearing their proximity by the click-clack of their teeth and their grunts when they forage. I used to stare at them curiously behind a tree and they never seemed to be bothered by my presence. However, that was about to change.
It was late March and the day looked like an ordinary morning. I was walking in the forest when the clattering started. The sound approached fast and unexpectedly, I found myself surrounded by tiny peccaries. With my heart pounding, I looked around to discover a much closer group than I had predicted. The biggest male (or so my brain claimed) grunted louder and called the others. The little peccaries hid behind the adults as they started to form a ‘half-moon’ shaped troop.
It is amusing how one reacts during a threatening situation. Although I have never been particularly athletic, it took me less than ten seconds to find a fallen tree and climb it halfway. I saw the male more and more furious, when it failed to locate me. He clattered unstoppably and the hairs along his spine grew like a crest and of course, the stench was everywhere!
Those were the longest ten minutes of my life. My heart never stopped racing and I did not feel the blood coming from scratches. I was trying to count the herd. I have never seen so many! My brain was impaired but still I counted five hundred animals.
After that episode, I spent my time dreaming a return to ‘civilization’. Unfortunately, my time back in the city lasted shortly. Only two months later, I was offered a job to return to the rainforest and this time to look for my dreaded ‘enemies’, the peccaries. The purpose of my job was easy, I had to use my developed new fear to locate the animals, calculate the herd size and find out how often locals were hunting them.
Although, I was initially reluctant and called myself crazy, I convinced myself that this time was going to be different, as a group of people would come along and I planned to be extra careful. With that mediocre excuse, I departed to a different corner of the rainforest.
The first days passed without any fright; although every now and then, my now-conditioned-to-be-scared brain imagined the click-clack of the peccaries’ teeth. But months went by with no trace of odor nor sound of teeth. I talked to locals to confirm my concerns – no peccaries have been seen in a long time. Other animals were missing too. Long gone were the playful spider monkey and the casual tapir.
I was confused. The first rainforest seemed to be thriving with life but this was an empty shell. Things became clearer when I saw the immense amount of trees regularly brought from around, from illegal timber extraction and for conversion to charcoal. Trees growing for decades felled in seconds. Suddenly my job became tedious and pointless. I was looking for ghosts. The animals terrorizing my nightmares were gone in the real world.
One morning my field assistant came screaming; ‘They are crossing the river!’ ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘The peccaries; there are lots of them!’ he said. We rushed to the crossing, although we arrived too late. The locals took two adults for dinner. I asked how many and they told me about forty animals.
I was heartbroken. Forty? Big groups, like the one I saw, were never seen there. I was sad and missed the peccaries. I wanted them back and felt I could do nothing. A person was staring at the river. ‘There were hundreds of them’ he said. ‘They used to visit our banana crops and now they are all gone. We’ve got two to show our children. They have never tasted wild peccary before’. He was heartbroken too. ‘Are you here to bring the peccaries back?’ He asked me. I explained that the trees provided key food for peccaries, so I could not do much. I told him my story with the five hundred peccaries and how upset they were about me. We laughed and stared at the horizon, hoping that more peccaries could hide away from us in the remaining green.
About the Entry
Dr Nataly Hidalgo Aranzamendi
I am wildlife biologist from Peru. My journey has taken me to three continents studying several birds. I love doing science, but I am also passionate about communicating wildlife research to the general public. Being a blogger gives me the opportunity to establish a link between scientists and society, which I believe is very important, in times when natural environments are threatened by our activities. I am lucky to have seen many ‘rare’ animals in their habitats and to be able to share my personal stories about wildlife encounters.
- Site name | Penguins International
- Site URL | https://penguinsinternational.org/
- Twitter | @AranzNataly
- Why should someone visit your site? I am a freelance contributor for Penguins International. In my blogs you will find the latest scientific findings about penguin research in an ‘easy-to-grasp’ format and also personal stories about encounters with wild animals.
- Entry Title | Vanishing peccaries
- Entry Number | 62
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