Zoo Goes Hog Wild

May 3, 2012

Walker, Palito, and Chili, a trio of Chacoan peccaries, have moved onto the zoo’s South American Trail.

With their long spiked coats and broad snouts, the zoo’s three new additions look a bit like punk-rock pigs. In fact, these creatures are Chacoan peccaries, forest mammals native to South America. Here in Queens, they make their home on the South American Trail.

“It is very exciting to announce the arrival of these amazing and rare animals," said zoo director Scott Silver. “This was a species that was not even known to still exist a few decades ago.”

All male, the peccaries go by the names of Walker, Palito, and Chili. They tip the scales at approximately 60 pounds each, and have grayish-brown coats interspersed with long coarse hairs.

Chacoan peccaries were thought to be extinct until the 1970s. At that time, researchers discovered them to be living in the Gran Chaco, a region spanning parts of Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil. Habitat loss and overhunting have severely affected their populations, and Chacoan peccaries are now designated as Endangered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). Scientists estimate that just 3,000 remain in the wild.

At the zoo, Walker, Palito, and Chili eat fresh fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots, and kale. As a form of enrichment, keepers often hide food for them throughout the exhibit. This encourages the animals to forage, just as they would in the wild, and keeps them active and healthy.

WCS conservationists are working in the Gran Chaco to ensure a future for peccaries, despite the serious environmental threats they face.