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EN - Chacoan Peccary

Chacoan peccary (Catagonus wagneri)

Status: Endangered A3cd+4cd ver 3.1

Pop. trend: decreasing

Chacoan Peccary
Note: The Chacoan peccary was first described from pre-Hispanic and subfossil remains by Rusconi in 1930 and was believed to be an extinct species. In 1972 it was found alive in the Argentine Chaco (Wetzel et al. 1975; Wetzel 1977a, b, 1981).


Catagonus wagneri, Rusconi 1930

Photo: Juan M. Campos Krauer

Subspecies and distribution


There are no known subspecies of Catagonus wagneri (Mayer & Brandt 1982).


Distribution map Chacoan peccary

The Chacoan peccary is endemic to the South American Gran Chaco, an alluvial plain formed by erosional material from the Andes Mountains, covering parts of northern Argentina, western Paraguay, and south-eastern Bolivia (Sowls 1984; Redford & Eisenberg 1992; Taber 1993). There is no accurate information on the total area inhabited by the species. Its original range is estimated to have covered no more than 140,000 km² (Sowls 1984). Currently the species inhabits western Paraguay, northern Argentina in the provinces of Chaco, Formosa, Salta and Santiago del Estero, and eastern Bolivia, in the provinces of Tarija, Santa Cruz, and Chuquisaca (Taber 1991b; Maffei et al. 2008; Altrichter et al. 2015).

Descriptive notes

Body measurements: Shoulder height: 52-69 cm; Head and body length: 96–117 cm; Body mass: 29.5-40 kg. The dental formula for the Chacoan peccary is: I 2/3, C 1/1, P 3/3, M 3/3, total 38 (Sowls 1997).

Chacoan Peccary in captivity
The Chacoan peccary is larger and heavier than the other two species. It also differs by its longer dorsal pelage, and a longer, more concave rostrum, proportionally larger head and longer ears, tail, and legs. The skull differs from the other species of peccaries in having extreme development of the rostrum, nasal chambers and sinuses (Mayer & Wetzel 1986; Wetzel 1977b, 1981a). It has a mixed coloration of various shades of gray-brown, black, and white. Its fur is bristly, with a dark mid-dorsal line running down the back and light colored band across the shoulders, similar to collared peccary. Juveniles’ pelage is lighter color, with a black back stripe, tan shoulder collar, and white underside. Chacoan peccary does not have vestigial hind dew claws as the other two species of peccaries do. The Chacoan peccary is the most morphological specialized of the peccaries. The legs are relatively long and adapted for running. The teeth are high-crowned suggesting that the species is a browser. The orbits are set well back and its nasal chambers and sinuses are enlarged possibly as an adaptation to dry, dusty conditions (Mayer & Wetzel 1986). The vision is poor whereas olfaction and hearing are well developed (Sowls 1984).

Like the other two species of peccaries, it has a large scent gland on the rear of the back, about 15 cm above the base of the tail. This gland is formed by a group of subcutaneous glands with tubular glands around them. It appears as a raised area of skin, approximately 5 x 7 cm along the dorsal mid line (Sowls 1997). The gland produces a milky white substance used in marking sent on objects and other peccaries Females have four pairs of mammae (one pair pectoral, two pairs abdominal, and one pair inguinal (Sowls 1997).

Similar to the other two species, the Chacoan peccary does not have a marked sexual dimorphism. Males have been found to be slightly heavier than females except when they are pregnant (Handen 1994). The longevity of the species in the wild is unknown. Sowls (1984), based on tooth cementum layers, estimated the age of some individuals to be at least nine years. Some individuals in captivity have reached 18 years (Proyecto Taguá, Fortín Toledo, Paraguay).


The Chacoan peccary lives in a narrower variety of climates than the other two species (Sowls 1997). Its primary habitat is the drier part of the Gran Chaco ecoregion (Sowls 1984, 1997). This is a markedly seasonal region, characterized by low rainfall and high temperature. Temperatures rise from south to north and rainfall from west to east. The main rainfall, as a result of isolated storms, is from October to March; the driest months are July and August. Annual rainfall ranges between 450 and 800 mm. Average annual temperature is 21.9 °C with minimums below zero and maximums around 50 °C. Average maximum are near 27 °C, and absolute maximum may reach 47 °C. The average minimum is about 14 °C, although freezing winter temperatures can occur throughout the region. In addition to the predominantly flat topography, the scarcity of rain results in an arid zone that experiences frequent dust storms (Morello & Adamoli 1968; Bucher 1983).

The dominant vegetative type of the species habitat is xerophytic deciduous forests with multiple layers including a canopy, sub-canopy, shrub and herbaceous layer (Bucher 1983). Schinopsis sp. and Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco are the emergent trees, and Ruprechtia triflora, Capparis spp. and Acacia spp. are the most abundant species of the dense shrub layer while the ground cover is formed mostly by bromeliads and cactii, such as Opuntia sp., Cleistocactus baumannii and Eriocereus guelichii (Mayer & Brandt 1982, Taber et al. 1993). There are some open grasslands areas resulting from bush clearing and fire. Chacoan peccaries are also found in open woodland, but this seems to be a marginal habitat for the species.

Movements and home range

The Chacoan peccary is territorial. Herd home range sizes in the Paraguayan Chaco have been estimated to be about 1,100 ha in average with a core area of about 600 ha, based on 95% Minimum Convex Polygons. Daily ranges average 18.2 ha and daily travel distances average 2.2 km (Taber et al. 1993). There has not been more recent home range estimates.

Activity patterns

Chacoan peccaries are more diurnal than the other two sympatric peccary species in the Chaco. They become active about sunrise, are active throughout the day and become inactive at dusk (Taber 1991). Most of the activity occurs between 6 am and midday. During the hot part of the day herds rest under brush or along roads under tall trees (Mayer & Brandt 1982). Taber et al. (1993) found that radio-tracked herds were continually on the move within the home range, shown by a largely different area being used every day over an approximate 42 day cycle.

Feeding ecology

Chacoan peccaries’ principal food resources includes different species of Cacti, i.e. Cleistocactus, Eriocereus, Quiabentia, and Opuntia. They can remove the spines by rolling pieces of cacti leaves on the ground as well as pulling off the spines with their teeth. They also consume fallen cactus flowers and fruits and seeds from various species of Acacia and Prosopis, and occasionally browse on forbs (Mayer & Brandt 1982; Taber 1991b; Taber et al. 1993). This species digs less for food than the other two peccaries, although it has been observed to consume roots of bromeliads (Taber 1991b). Mayer & Brandt (1982) did not find evidence of meat consumption although it has been observed, in captivity, that if they have the option, animals would consume meat scraps. Chacoan peccaries lick and eat mineral rich soil from naturally occurring salt licks and leaf-cutter ant mounds. The Chacoan peccary habitats can lack surface water during the dry season. Taber et al. (1993), following radio tracked animals, observed that home ranges contained no surface water during the dry season, and concluded the Chacoan peccaries probably obtain sufficient water from the cactus they consume. The Chacoan peccary can live in drier areas than the collared peccary, probably because its kidneys are more efficient to concentrate urine and thus conserve additional water (Zervanos 1985).

Reproduction and growth

Mayer & Brandt (1982) and Sowls (1984) found a slightly biased sex ratio in favor of males from observation of animals in the wild, specimens collected and examination of fetuses. However, Yahnke et al. (1997) reported that the sex ratio of newborns in captivity did not differ from 1:1. The species apparently reproduce once per year in the Paraguayan and the Bolivian Chaco and the farrowing season extends from September through January (Taber et al. 1993; Noss 1999; Noss et al. 2003). Litter sizes have been reported to range between one and four with an average of two in Paraguay (Mayer & Brandt 1982; Brooks 1992; Yahnke et al. 1997). However, these data come from small sample sizes or from captive animals, making it problematic to infer to wild populations (Noss 1999). Taber et al. (1993) estimated litter size of 1.7 for a wild population and suggested that the difference could be a result of low reproductive rate or high neonate mortality. In the Argentine Chaco, local hunters report that findings of three or four fetuses are exceptional (Altrichter 2005). Litter size of pregnant harvested females in Argentina ranged from one to three with a mode of 2 (Altrichter 2005).

Captive females in Paraguay gave birth between 1.2 and 8.3 years of age. There were no differences in litter size among age groups or among females, although it seems that younger females may have smaller litters (Yahnke et al. 1997). Gestation time in captivity is about 150 days (Benirschke & Heuschele 1993).

Social and community behavior

Chacoan peccaries are social, living in smaller herds compared to the other two species. It has a similar spatial organization to that of the collared peccary, which exhibits a stable group structure and mutual avoidance between groups (Day 1985, Taber et al. 1993). The herd sizes in the Paraguayan Chaco were reported in the past to vary between 1 and 10 (Mayer & Brandt 1982; Sowls 1997), with an average of 3.8 (Mayer & Brandt 1982) and 4.3 (Sowls 1984, Taber et al. 1994). However, group sizes are smaller in hunted areas, ranging from one to four (Taber et al. 1993, Mayer & Brandt 1982, Altrichter & Boaglio 2004). Herds observed in the Bolivian Paraguay ranged between 1 and 7 individuals with an average of 2.6 (Maffei et al. 2008). Herds are composed of both sexes and probably composed of family groups (Sowls 1997). It is common however, to observe solitary Chacoan peccaries (Mayer & Brandt 1982); in fact, locally in Bolivia it is often called “solitario”.

Like the other species of peccaries, they communicate by various sounds, ranging from grunts to chatters of the teeth. Tooth-chattering, however, is less common among Chacoan peccaries than in the other species (Handen & Berischke 1991).They also display physical interactions among members of the herd, rubbing against each other. Some aggressive behavior such as charging and biting has been observed among individuals. The social structure of herds is unknown, although it has been proposed that there is not a dominance hierarchy in the herds (Mayer & Brandt 1982; Handen & Berischke 1991). However, Brooks (1996) proposed that there is a subtle hierarchical structure. He observed one animal leading the herd from one area to another on several occasions. He also recorded a female being dominant over others, and having prefered access to food. Benirschke & Heuschele (1993) reported that a matriarch appeared to be dominant in three captive herds. Brooks (1996) believes that social order between gender is complex and reamian largely unknown. This non-hierarchial nature between gender is probably explained by the polygynandrous mating strategy (Brooks 1992). Brooks (1996) concluded that social contact is a major factor influencing group bonding. Additionally, low guttural grunts and olfactory cues aid in bonding.

The Chacoan peccary is territorial and mark territory with the odorous substance secreted from glands on their backs by rubbing against objects like trees, shrubs, logs, rocks, etc. Taber et al. (1994) reported that Chacoan peccary defends territory based upon little overlap between neighboring ranges and the use of marking stations. Individuals in the wild have been observed bathing in dust and mud. In search of dust, they often use dirt roads. They use scat stations periodically over months or years (Taber et al. 1993).

When frightened, Chacoan peccaries raise the long hairs on their back and spray secretions from their dorsal gland, presumably to keep the group together in the dense brush by odor (Taber 1993, Brooks 1996).

Status in the wild

The Chacoan Peccary is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List (Altrichter et al. 2015) and it is included within Annex I of CITES. The populations of Chacoan peccary are declining and fragmented within the species limited geographical range (Altrichter et al. 2015). The species has disappeared from large areas of the Argentine Chaco where its original range has been reduced by approximately 40% (Altrichter & Boaglio 2004, Altrichter 2006). Its range has also been reduced in Bolivia and in the eastern Paraguayan Chaco (Neris et al. 2002). This decline is due to the combined threats of habitat loss and hunting. The Chaco forest is being quickly transformed into large scale agriculture and cattle ranching. Over-hunting also continues, especially in Argentina and Paraguay, even though hunting in these countries is illegal. Most hunting is done by rural people as a way to obtain bush meat. Hunting for its hide used to be more common in the past, but it is rare currently. Its hide is not as valuable compared with the other peccary species. This species is particularly susceptible to hunting as they frequently dust bathe in groups in open spaces, including near roads, and often react to danger by freezing rather than fleeing. This behavior enables hunters to eliminate whole groups in one encounter (Taber 1993, Jaun Campos Pers. Obs.).

A study in the Argentine Chaco found that Chacoan peccary is the rarest of the three species of peccaries living in the area and the most vulnerable to human disturbance. Chacoan peccaries disappear when forest cover is reduced to less than 87% of the original cover (Altrichter & Boaglio 2004). Currently, habitat destruction is the major threat. The rate of clearance for agriculture and cattle pasture in the Paraguayan and Argentinean Chaco is extremely high (Pearce 2011, IUCN). In 2013 the Gran Chaco ecoregion lost 502,300 hectares due to deforestation and the trends are in augment, with Paraguay having the fastest and largest deforestation (47%, Caballero et al. 2014). A recent study documented that the Chaco dry forests of Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia have one of the highest deforestation rates in the World (Vallejos et al. 2015). Until the end of 2012, 15.8 million ha of the original habitats of the Chaco were transformed into croplands or pastures, with greatest annual rates of transformation in Paraguay, where deforestation increased dramatically in the last decade (Vallejos et al. 2015). The majority of this consists of the conversion of forest into grassland or pasture, while in Argentina the major driver of land-cover change has been soybean cultivation (Caldas et al. 2013). Even inside the Chaco Biosphere Reserve, created by UNESCO, a total of 734,000 hectares were cleared in the last 10 years, with a deforestation rate of 222 hectares/day (Guyra Paraguay 2013).

Text adapted from: Altrichter, M., Beck, H., Gongora, J., Keroughlian, A. & and R. Reyna-Hurtado 2017. Chacoan peccary Catagonus wagneri. Pages: 246-254. In: M. Meletti and E. Meijaard, editors. Ecology, Conservation and Management of Wild Pigs and Peccaries. Cambridge, UK.

Relevant Literature

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Altrichter, M. (2005). The sustainability of subsistence hunting of peccaries in the Argentine Chaco. Biological Conservation 126: 351–362.

Altrichter, M. (2006). Wildlife in the life of local people in the Argentine Chaco. Biodiversity and Conservation 15: 2719–2736.

Altrichter, M., Taber, A., Noss, A. & Maffei, L. (2008). Catagonus wagneri. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 10/20/2015.

Benirschke, K. & Heuschele, W. P. (1993). Proyecto Taguá: the giant Chaco peccary Catagonus wagneri conservation project. International Zoo Yearbook 32: 28–31. 

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