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Pec­ca­ries of Mesoamer­ica now highly threat­ened, warn experts

pub­lished 16 Octo­ber 2016 | mod­i­fied 16 Octo­ber 2016

White lipped peccaryHunt­ing, defor­esta­tion, and cat­tle ranch­ing in Mesoamer­ica have become a triad of trou­ble for the white-​lipped pec­cary (Tayassu pecari), an eco­log­i­cally impor­tant species now threat­ened with regional extinc­tion, accord­ing Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS) and a group of experts at a recently held meet­ing in Belize.

WCS recently hosted a sym­po­sium at the 20th Mesoamer­i­can Soci­ety for Con­ser­va­tion Biol­ogy Con­gress, which brought together lead­ing sci­en­tists for an emer­gency assess­ment of the rapidly declin­ing white-​lipped pec­cary in Mesoamer­ica. The objec­tives of the Sym­po­sium were to doc­u­ment the cur­rent sta­tus of this pig-​like species, to map recent reduc­tions in its range across Mesoamer­ica, and to pro­pose con­ser­va­tion actions to pro­tect the species.

The white-​lipped pec­cary is an impor­tant ecosys­tem engi­neer for the extremely threat­ened forests of Mesoamerica
Dr. Jeremy Rada­chowsky, Direc­tor of WCS’s Mesoamer­ica and the West­ern Caribbean Program »

Hunt­ing and defor­esta­tion for agri­cul­ture and cat­tle ranch­ing have dri­ven pre­cip­i­tous declines of the white-​lipped pec­cary in most Mesoamer­i­can coun­tries. As the only large mam­mal that moves in large herds in forested envi­ron­ments, this species rep­re­sents one of Cen­tral America’s true wildlife spec­ta­cles, and plays a key role in ecosys­tem func­tion of the region’s forests. Pec­cary herds can num­ber up to 200 indi­vid­u­als and range as widely as 120 square kilo­me­ters (more than 46 square miles).

White-​lipped pec­cary footage:

(Source: Pan­tanal Bird­Club YouTube channel)

Pec­cary pop­u­la­tion decline
How­ever, herd sizes like this are becom­ing ever rarer as hunt­ing depletes pop­u­la­tions and dis­rupts their social struc­ture. In Mex­ico and Guatemala, the species’ dis­tri­b­u­tion range has been reduced by more than 84 per­cent in the last 30 years. In Hon­duras and Nicaragua, only a few rem­nant pop­u­la­tions remain. In El Sal­vador, the species is already locally extinct.

Dr. Omar Figueroa, the Belizean Min­is­ter of Envi­ron­ment, presided over the sym­po­sium, which brought together lead­ing mam­mal researchers from Belize, Mex­ico, Guatemala, Hon­duras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. The group out­lined the threats fac­ing white-​lipped pec­cary pop­u­la­tions in each coun­try. Col­lec­tively, the sci­en­tists mapped the cur­rent known loca­tions of remain­ing white-​lipped pec­cary pop­u­la­tions and com­pared these with the past extent of their range to develop an idea of the rate of loss.

Experts led by Dr. Rafael Reyna-​Hurtado of El Cole­gio de la Fron­tera Sur (ECO­SUR) are call­ing for an increase in the offi­cial Inter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN) extinc­tion threat level from ‘Vul­ner­a­ble’ to ‘Endan­gered’ in Mesoamer­ica. A map of the species’ cur­rent range will be released in the com­ing weeks. The group of sci­en­tists and con­ser­va­tion­ists also signed a pledge com­mit­ting them­selves to jointly pro­pose and imple­ment con­ser­va­tion actions to save the species.

The white-​lipped pec­cary is an impor­tant ecosys­tem engi­neer for the extremely threat­ened forests of Mesoamer­ica,” said Dr. Jeremy Rada­chowsky. “A coor­di­nated regional plan is required to pre­vent this key­stone species from dis­ap­pear­ing from the region.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice is deeply con­cerned about the plight of white-​lipped pec­ca­ries in Cen­tral Amer­ica,” said Ani Cuevas, Pro­gram Offi­cer for the Cen­tral Amer­ica pro­gram. “We are pleased to sup­port this group of sci­en­tists in assess­ing the range and pop­u­la­tion sta­tus of this bell­wether species for healthy forests. Col­lab­o­ra­tion from a vari­ety of part­ners will be crit­i­cal to achiev­ing effec­tive con­ser­va­tion of this impor­tant species.”

(Source: WCS news release, 04.10.2016)

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