Wednesday 22 June 2016

Boatmen and Peccaries, Madre de Dios Peruvian Amazon

The first time we saw white-lipped peccaries they were in the soccer pitch next to the boatmen's hut. The soccer pitch is where the guides and staff at Tambopata Research Centre relax after lunch before the evening excursions. The small pitch is next to the hut where the boatmen sleep. When we went there searching for peccaries on a forest walk our guide Berli explained how dedicated the boatmen are to their boats, which is why they sleep here instead of at the centre, close to the riverbank. Every two hours all through the night, one will wander down the steep steps to the boats to check on them, but as the river was dangerously high at this time, with flotillas of trees floating downstream, they would be sleeping in their boats under a blanket. Here is the creek where they moor them, around the corner from the steps we used to climb up and down the high banks.

It was up here near their huts that we first saw peccaries, though were very aware of their presence as we could hear their screams from the lodge, their grunts and teeth-clacking like machine-gunfire, and see their tracks in mud. Most of all, we knew they were around because of their smell, which is like stale sweat. One of the main differences between climax rainforest with scattered human presence dotted along the riverbanks, and the pristine rainforest around Tambopata Research Centre, is the stench, much more pungent in the pristine forest. Apart from TRC, noone else is allowed to lodge inside the national reserve, so the diversity of wildlife is much richer. Even the trees there are more pungent, with names such as 'garlic tree', 'shit tree', and 'camphor tree', with smells that deter foragers from eating their leaves.

The peccaries crossed our path, stopping every now and then to look at us and to guard their young. Their passage took about twenty minutes as herds are vast. The next day we went down the creek to the Colorado clay lick, one of the largest in the world, to observe macaws and parrots, but found it occupied by the herd of peccaries. It is thought that mammals and parrots eat the salt-rich clay to neutralise the toxins in their diet, but research is ongoing as this has not been proved. More about the spectacle of macaws and parrots at another clay lick in a future post.