Thursday, April 14, 2011
At Lake Yojoa's Hotel Las Glorias, I wander over to the little zoo that so many Latin American hotels seem to consider standard equipment, along with crowing roosters and barking dogs. (Those are vital to a good night's sleep, apparently).
Two white-tailed deer—endangered in Honduras—step delicately around their concrete-floored pen, dodging puddles of their own urine. The buck has knobbled antlers, still in velvet, and a heartbreakingly soft pink tongue, with which he cleans my fingers. I pull big handfuls of fresh grass for him and his slender mate, and leave them eating. I want to open their pen, but I know they’d be killed within hours by people hungry for protein. They make me deeply sad, these creatures who were never meant to be confined, who for the rest of their lives will walk delicate circles on wet cement.
Next, I call to the captive javelinas, the little wild pigs that root and trot through the forests. Technically, they're collared peccaries Pecari tajacu, and they aren't actually in the Suidae but in their own family, the Tayassuidae. They've got fabulous long oily hair, which acts as a water-repellent raincoat in their wet lush habitat.
Distributed throughout Central and tropical South America, including the island of Trinidad, they are omnivores who live in family groups of six to several dozen. It's clear they're highly social. They interact freely, travel in a group, and seem to really dig talking with me.
Their enclosure is large and grassy, though it’s littered with coils of barbed wire and garbage. They come over in single file and sniff my hands with their mobile pink discs, grunting softly.
Feeling bold, I scratch the tops of their heads, and find one juvenile female who luxuriates under my touch. I rub all along her ears and jaw bars as her eyes close in delight. When I’m done, my fingers smell terrible—BO and onions. Here's the scent gland of a peccary--a mucky bare spot on the top of the rump.
It's actually gooey with what must be an exudate to be rubbed on tree trunks and anything else the piggie wants to mark. They're otherwise such lovely little animals...I muse that the adaptive significance of a gooey scent gland might be to save the peccary from the pet trade.
The pigs naturally exude a strong fetid odor, one I know because I have smelled it in the wild. You can usually smell white-lipped peccaries before you see them, and the odor, happened upon in a humid forest, always sends a chill through me. I look about for the nearest low-branched tree, which anyone who's ever been in humid tropical forest knows, is usually nonexistent. I eye the telephone poles all around me and wonder if I could shin up one if I were terrified enough.
More peccary love anon...