The white lipped peccary: to the average person this animal might just look like a wild pig, not too pleasant to look at. But the truth is that these funny looking creatures are a vital element for the health of forest ecosystems in the Mesoamerica region. Their function as fruit predators and as food base for several wild cats are crucial for biodiversity in the region. However, a press release issued today by the Wildlife Conservation Society in Belize says that a new report shows that White-Lipped peccaries have been eliminated from 87% of their historical range in the Mesoamerica region. Forest fragmentation and unsustainable hunting practices have caused their numbers to dwindle and teeter on the brink of extinction.
Reports of continued decline of the species caused great concern among experts that the previous assessment as 'Vulnerable' under the IUCN red list of Threatened Species has been inadequate to respond to the growing issue. As a result, an international study was conducted with participants from all 7 countries in which the White Lipped peccary is found. University of Belize, represented the Belizean delegation in this study.
According to the report published, the results of this study are already informing revisions in wildlife protection laws and hunting regulations in Guatemala and Belize. In addition it has noted that it is a critical time for the survival of the White Lipped peccary and forest diversity by extension; as stable herds, according to the study conducted, can now only be found in two of five wildernesses in Mesoamerica: the Tri-national Maya Forest in Belize, Mexico and Guatemala; and the El DariÃ©n in Panama.
White-lipped Peccary on Verge of Extinction
They are foul-smelling, noisy, and move in groups of up to three hundred. They are an important species to the environment, but are on the verge of extinction. A recently released report revealed that the white-lipped peccary, or Warrie, is on the verge of extinction. The animal can be found across the Meso-American region and Belize has two of the nine remaining healthy populations. It is the most endangered large mammal in Central America and its numbers have declined by eighty-seven percent. Conservationists believe that the species can be saved from extinction if the large connected forests are protected and hunting is properly managed. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports.
Hipolito Novelo, Reporting
One of the largest herding animals in Belize and in the Americas is on the verge of extinction. A report from the Washington State University and other key regional partners has revealed that the population of the white-lipped peccary, known in Belize as Warrie, has declined by an alarming eighty seven percent.
Lee McLoughlin, Terrestrial Coordinator, W.C.S.
“It’s an important species because people eat it. It’s an important part of some people’s diet, especially in rural areas. It’s an ecosystem engineer so as many wild pigs, it goes through it disturbs the forest, it controls the seed production and growth. Also, it’s also one of the last large herding animals that we have in the whole of the Americas. This animal can move in groups of up to three hundred individuals and if you ever see that in the forest, it’s something you won’t forget. It’s an important animal for Belize. We never want an animal to go extinct and this one is one of the large mammals that is the closest to that situation so we have to be careful.”
Also known as “pig of the jungle,” the white-lipped peccary is considered an ecological engineer because as it makes its way through large forest blocks, creating new niches that assist in the maintenance of a variety of wildlife. It is an important prey for jaguars, however; they are known to be so aggressive that jaguars have been killed by this species. A white-lipped peccary can be identified by its brown or black fur and its white patch around its snout. The animal releases a strong unique odor used to mark its territory. It loves waddling in the mud but its mere existence is threatened by deforestation and illegal and unregulated hunting.
“There is forest loss which is its habitat. So if it does not have so much area to live, obviously its population is going to be smaller. On top of that, you got hunting as well. There is legal hunting and illegal hunting and a lot of the illegal hunting which is unsustainable; taking too many of the animals that it can’t be replaced back in time, so this is happening. These two factors combined have led to its loss.”
There are twenty-nine populations of the white-lipped peccary spread across the Meso-American Region. Of that number, twenty are either significantly smaller or highly threatened and are rapidly becoming isolated’. Belize has two healthy population ‘populations
“And that’s due in large part to the fact that Belize, as I mentioned, has still large forest blocks. Warrie needs large connected forest blocks for its survival. We have the Maya Mountains, Chiquibul and the Rio Bravo in the north. Those two populations are the healthy ones.”
The white-lipped peccary is almost extinct in Nicaragua and Honduras. None can be found within the borders of El Salvador. According to experts, for the animal to survive the threat of deforestation and human consumption, regulatory legislation and agencies are necessary.
“To basically consider the loss of habitat, making sure that we are protecting those large forest blocks that we have, protecting those populations that we still have, trying to recover the connection of forest between those large blocks like the Central Belize Corridor that runs from the Rio Bravo area to the Chiquibul, across the George Price Highway, and we also need to have better control of hunting. There is a lot of hinting that goes on in Belize; very little of it goes unregulated. Authorities are trying to improve that situation and we are hoping for revision to some of the legislation next year to go some way to solving this problem.”
Peccary’s disappearance foreboding for other Mesoamerican wildlife
The white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), a hairy, pig-like mammal that once lived throughout the forests of Central and South America, now only skitters around in 13 percent of its former range, according to a report released in November 2018.
More than two-thirds of white-lipped peccary populations are on the decline, said scientists who met to discuss the future of the species in an August 2016 meeting in Belize City, Belize. That’s concerning, they warn, because peccaries are sensitive to hunting and deforestation. Thus, their disappearance could be a harbinger of the future loss of other wildlife.
“No species represents the plight of the forests like the white-lipped peccary, which is now teetering at the edge of existence due to habitat loss and hunting,” Jeremy Radachowsky, an ecologist who directs the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Mesoamerica program and participated in the assessment, said in a statement. “We need to take immediate action to save Mesoamerica’s last wild places and their incredible wildlife.”