A large, pig-like mammal previously unknown to science has been discovered in the depths of Brazil's Amazon rain forest. The creature has been called a "giant" because it grows to a length of more than four feet and is almost twice as heavy as other members of the peccary family.
The giant peccary (Pecari maximus) stayed completely hidden from the modern world until skins and bones of animals killed by local hunters came to the attention of Marc van Roosmalen, a Dutch primatologist, who captured four of the creatures on film.
Tupi Indians call the animal caitetu munde, meaning "great peccary which lives in pairs". It is only known to live along the banks of the Aripuana river and its tributaries
Although only just discovered, the species may already be endangered by illegal logging. Roads have been cut through the area, linking it to centres of high population and opening it up agriculture. "We fear that commercial hunters using trained dogs will focus on caitetu munde to feed hungry settlers," Dr Van Roosmalen said. Scientists have recommend that the animal be placed on the Red List of threatened species run by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Describing the animal in the journal Bonner Zoologische Beitrage, Dr Van Roosmalen and colleagues from Germany and the Netherlands wrote: "Pecari maximus walks silently through its preferred habitat – dense terra firma climax forest – in small family groups that contain only an adult pair with or without 1-2 offspring."
The giant peccary is larger than its cousins, but is more slightly built, with longer legs and a relatively small head. It also has different markings. While its relatives dig up the ground in search of seeds and roots, Pecari maximus lives mostly off freshly fallen fruit.
Although this is the first official sighting, it is thought that the animal may have been spotted almost a century ago by an American rubber-cutter, John Yungjohann, who worked in the Amazon from 1906 to 1919. In his book White Gold, he gives an account of the local animals, mentioning three types of "bush pig" including a "great big one".
Peccaries have a long history in North America, appearing in the fossil record about 32 million years ago. Along with llamas and tapirs, they reached South America about three million years ago when the Isthmus of Panama formed.