The Last Catagonus

When I was first told that the museum was going to have a blog site, I thought – ‘Oh great!  Now everyone who wants to know what I ate for lunch every day will have access to that sort of information.’  Then, Erin told me it won’t be the sort of blog site where everyone can find out what I ate for lunch on a given day, but a way of letting people know more than the credentials listed on my museum webpage

So when trying to decide what to write about, I figured – why not put some of those old camp diaries that are just collecting dust at home to good use? 

So here is my first attempt.  For some background, I spent 1989-1990 studying a semi-captive baited herd of Chacoan peccaries (Catagonus wagneri), an endangered, medium-sized mammal endemic to the Chaco biome of central South America; Taguá is the Guaraní Indian word for this distant relative of the pig sub-Order.  They are extremely rare, and very few people ever see a live one in the wild. 

Writing this piece takes me back to a time when I accomplished a lot by knowing very little.  Only in my early twenties, I did a lot of growing up during my stint in the Chaco – hot water, electricity, air-conditioning, phones, TVs, stereos, etc. were non-existent in my life, but the fauna was diverse and abundant, and the studies I was able to accomplish during my time there paved way for a lifetime of disciplined work.  I hope everyone out there in cyberspace enjoys reading this.

                                                                                          – DB, 7/21/08

The Last Catagonus

12/31/89
Estancia Toledo, Dpto. Boquerón, Paraguay

At 08:34 hrs, this dude saw WILD TAGUÁ!!!!  I cannot describe the sensation of witnessing them in all their glory.  Even the folks studying population dynamics of this species have never stumbled upon them in the wild – tracks yes, and the individuals that the indian’s dogs ‘cornered’ in order to radio-collar maybe five times.  Even my counterpart Jak, who was born and raised in the Chaco, and has spent much of his whole life in the wilderness has barely seen wild Taguá!  The thing that kills me is they are right in ‘my own backyard’!  I saw them on Gabor’s land between his Estancia and house lot, on the south side of the dirt road.  There were two individuals at least in their second year with a ~2 month old baby [very cool that these rare species were breeding, sustaining, etc.]!!!

As the sun lit the dust which yielded off the road, I saw two huge, gray wild boar – wait, those can’t be wild boar, they don’t occur here!  Oh…part of my study herd left their 5 hectare habitat!  No wait, those don’t look like any Taguá I know…  Their dorsal hair was halfway pilo-erected.  They just lowered their heads and stared at me, displaying their ever so meek, yet ever so costly alert stance [it is this very behavior – the alert stance - that is mostly responsible for the Taguá’s decline, as they are easier for hunters to shoot].  Then they fled past me along the simbra fence line.  It was here that I saw the little brown baby, bringing up the rear.  I was in the middle of the edge of the road, no more than 20 meters away.  I was so shocked.  Then they stopped ~40 meters down their path and stared again, only to see that I was slowly walking in their direction.  Then they fled some more and went through the simbra and into the bush.  It was the same area where I saw the female antshrike a month ago, and found the road-killed rainbow boa a few weeks ago.  I snapped a picture of the dust flying and the gray rump kicking up into the air – just like my study herd does.  I was so shocked that I had to check the tracks to make sure I wasn’t crazy.  There they were, also saw some huge canid tracks – maned wolf?  probably not – too dry in the area… 

I will never forget this day – the last day in time of the 1980’s.  In a way it is almost bittersweet symbolism, as many predict mass extinction of all mega-vertebrates by the end of this decade…