A Champion for Peccaries
March 8, 2012
Call it the under-pig. While Brazil’s tropical wetlands may be better known for their spotted cats and freshwater fish, the peccary is one of the country’s most important forest critters. (Though distinct from pigs, peccaries bear a strong resemblance and are part of the same sub-order.) As seed dispersers, forest engineers—and yes, as prey for those famed jaguars and mountain lions—they play key roles in maintaining local biodiversity.
But due to forest fragmentation and the increasing spread of zoonotic diseases between local livestock and wildlife that share the same turf, peccaries are facing threats to their survival. Thankfully, they have a champion in WCS conservation biologist Dr. Alexine Keuroghlian. On February 27, Keuroghlian won the Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership from the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Keuroghlian serves as the Brazilian representative to IUCN’s Pigs, Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group and as the Pantanal/Cerrado Landscape Director for WCS–Brazil.
The Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership was established in 2004 in honor of its namesake, a crocodile conservation specialist. It recognizes “exemplary service to the SSC, especially from individuals who have made a specific contribution to species conservation on the ground or through their leadership.”
In addition to conducting veterinary studies on behalf of white-lipped peccaries in Brazil’s Pantanal, Keuroghlian recently helped lead an effort to drive community awareness of the animals. As part of this project, together with various partners, WCS sponsors a local women’s soccer team in the Brazilian village of Taboco. The project members provide peccary-themed team uniforms to the players and attend games, where they teach the local residents and schoolchildren about the role peccaries play in shaping forest environments. The effort has helped to deter hunting of these mammals and seems to be paying off in other ways, too.
|© Alexine Keuroghlian|
“As an encouraging sign of the success of the outreach program, we have received several reports from community members of peccary sightings in forest fragments,” said Keuroghlian. “By educating young community members, like the soccer players, we’re hoping that kids will influence their parents and grandparents, and pass on a conservation ethic that will help maintain wildlife populations in the region.”
Maybe they haven’t yet reached soccer player status in Brazil, but slowly, the peccaries are gaining some well-deserved dues.