Spotting and Tracking Mammals at Chan Chich

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen anything as exciting as a jaguar recently, but morning walks at the Lodge have been fruitful nonetheless. Mostly I look for birds, but any mammal spotted is one worth seeing – even a squirrel, given that the most common species here is one only found in Central America. I’m most used to the Eastern Gray Squirrel of the United States, as well as the smaller Variegated Squirrel of Costa Rica’s Central Valley and the cute Red-tailed Squirrel in the volcano regions. Here at Chan Chich, the Deppe’s Squirrel is a dark brown with frosted gray on the tail, and it is much more timid than the acclimatized suburban rodents of the East Coast in the US.

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Speaking of rodents, the Central American Agouti is a large, forest-dwelling terrestrial rodent that we come across every now and then on the trails here, and they can be quite cute as they warily forage for seeds and palm fruit on the ground. A couple of the agoutis I’ve seen recently have bristled the fur around their rumps as they move around, which makes their bodies seem larger and their hindparts spiky (stay tuned for a compilation video featuring this behavior next week).

One mammal that I hadn’t seen yet at Chan Chich until this week is the Collared Peccary, which Jocelyn first spotted within the Main Plaza area. After she ran over to call me to see the peccary, we returned to the same spot and found a dozen herd members snuffling around for food in the grass; one young individual found a fallen avocado from a nearby tree to its liking (that’ll be in the video too). These animals are pretty different from the wild boar of European origin, and in fact all peccaries are in a different family from the Old World pigs.

Peccaries and other wild pigs are ungulates, or animals with hooves.  The White-tailed Deer we see around the Gallon Jug area all the time are also ungulates, as is the Baird’s Tapir, another resident of the region. Last time I saw tapir tracks was at Barva Volcano in Costa Rica, but here at Chan Chich it is rare to walk on a trail that has soft mud on some section and not find at least a pair of these massive mammals’ tracks imprinted on the ground. The photo to the left was taken this morning, and has the tip of my boot included for scale. While I haven’t seen a tapir in the wild yet, I know they’re out there, not far away at all – but they’re primarily active at night here, so I have yet to cross paths with one.

Look closely at the photo above, and you’ll see the paw prints of another animal that has remained out of sight for now: the ocelot, a small cat species. There were some spots on the same trail this morning where the ocelot and tapir tracks weren’t too far away from each other. Ocelots aren’t big enough to be a threat to the much larger ungulate, and they probably didn’t traverse the trail at the same time, but it is amusing to imagine what it would be like if they did, as passive jungle neighbors.

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