November 5, 2007—A huge, undiscovered animal lurking in the Amazon rain forest? When pigs fly, you might say.
But recently, Dutch biologist Marc van Roosmalen spotted a new species of peccary—a type of large wild pig—in the Rio Aripuanã region of southeastern Brazil.
The newly christened giant peccary shares few similarities with its two relatives, the white-lipped and collared peccaries, both found in the same area.
For one thing, the new peccary doesn't eat like a pig—instead of snuffling on the ground for seeds and roots, it munches on fruits that grow in dry, wooded areas.
And unlike its gregarious counterparts, which form family groups of up to hundreds of animals, these timid giants only live in pairs or small family groups.
Giant peccaries also do not defend themselves from hunters, making them easy prey in a region undergoing unprecedented development and illegal logging, van Roosmalen and colleagues write in their report on the discovery.
"In view of these recent developments, we fear that commercial hunters using trained dogs will focus first on [the giant peccary]," the authors write.
The researchers recommend that the new species be placed on the World Conservation Union's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
"If the largest member of the pigs-related New World family of Tayassuidae, the giant peccary ... could have been overlooked so far, what else can [we] expect to roam around in this huge terra incognita named Amazonia?" van Roosmalen told National Geographic News in an email.
"With the current rate of habitat destruction in the Amazon, many creatures not yet scientifically described could go extinct without even knowing," he added.