Over the Labor Day weekend, at Knoxville Zoo, a Chacoan Peccary named Butternut took the holiday literally and delivered three ‘peclets’!
The three siblings were born on the morning of September 6th to seven-year-old mother Butternut and two-year-old father Squash. The newborns are reported to be healthy and thriving. Zoo staff said they are already displaying their unique behavior of “frisky-hopping”, which consists of running and leaping in circles in short bursts of activity.
Visitors to Knoxville Zoo can see the peccary family daily during regular zoo hours.
The Chacoan Peccary (Catagonus wagneri), or Tagua, is a species of peccary native to the Gran Chaco of Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina. Believed to be the closest living relative of the extinct genus Platygonus, the Chacoan Peccary was first described in 1930 based on fossils and was originally thought to be an extinct species. The animal was discovered to be alive, in 1971, in the Argentine province of Salta.
The Chacoan Peccary has many pig-like features. It is an ungulate with a well-formed rostrum with a leathery snout. The bristle-like hair is generally brown to almost gray. A dark stripe runs across the back, and white fur is on the shoulders. When nervous or frightened, it flees and raises the hairs on its back. While making an escape, it will spray secretions from its dorsal glands, which may be a signal for other peccaries to keep their group together.
Chacoan Peccaries often travel in herds of up to twenty, and they are active during the day. They are social mammals that communicate by various sounds, ranging from grunts to chatters of the teeth. Though individuals may occasionally exhibit aggressive behavior such as charging and biting, the species is not as aggressive as others. As a defensive strategy, members of a herd may line up in a defensive wall; unfortunately, this makes them an easy target for hunters. They also produce a milky, odorous substance that is secreted from glands on their backs and is dispersed onto trees or shrubs by rubbing.
Peccaries are omnivores, but the Chacoan Peccary prefers to feed on various species of cacti. They use their snout to roll the cacti on the ground, rubbing the spines off. Their two-chambered stomachs are well suited to digest tough foods, and their kidneys are specialized to break down acids from the cacti. They are also known to eat acacia pods and cactus flowers. They seek out salt licks (which provide calcium, magnesium, and chlorine) that are formed from ant mounds and construction projects.
Young peccaries are generally born between September and December, but litters have been found year-round. The average litter is 2 to 3 offspring. Females may leave the herd to give birth and then return afterwards. Newborns are precocial, able to run a few hours after birth.
The Chacoan Peccary is currently listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Numbers are decreasing as a result of habitat loss and fragmentation.