Posts Tagged ‘llama’

Gran Chaco Megafauna pre-1970 Resembled Pleistocene Fauna of North America

December 14, 2015

The Gran Chaco is a 250,000 square mile eco region encompassing parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, northern Argentina, and southwestern Brazil.  The landscape consists of open palm tree savannah interspersed with thorn scrub on more xeric sites while riverine forests or marshes occur wherever there is water.  The name Chaco derives from the Indian word Chacu, meaning hunting land.  The name suggests various regional Indian tribes regarded the region as a neutral hunting ground, probably because the climate was too arid for productive agriculture.  The region was rich in wildlife, nearly pristine, until 1970 when a major highway was constructed here.  Since then, cattle ranches and irrigated lands have replaced much of the former hunting grounds.

Map of Gran Chaco ecoregion.

Like North America, the Gran Chaco lost its largest but slowest breeding species of megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene.  There were 3 species of elephant-like animals–gompotheres, haplomastodons, and stegomastodons–living here until about 10,000 years ago as well as giant ground sloths, glyptodonts, pampatheres (a plant-eating giant armadillo), liptoterns (a primitive ungulate), horses, and saber-tooths.  However, many of the smaller species of Pleistocene megafauna that became extinct in North America had close relatives still extant in the Gran Chaco region.  The ranges of many of these species no longer overlap with each other because their populations have become fragmented following agricultural development, but an explorer traveling through the region prior to 1970 would have found a fauna very reminiscent of southeastern North America’s during the Pleistocene.  Llamas shared the range with peccaries, 2 species of deer, and tapirs in the Gran Chaco, not unlike the faunal mix of southeastern North America which included 2 species of llama, 2 species of peccary, 3 species of deer, and tapirs.

A remnant population of guanacos, a type of llama, still occurs in the Gran Chaco region.  Guanacos are still common in the Andes Mountains but have been largely extirpated from lowland regions.

The Chacoan peccary (Catagonys wagneri) is a close relative of the extinct flat-headed peccary (Platygonnus compressus), a species formerly common throughout North America.  Scientists only knew the Chacoan peccary from fossil specimens identified in 1930, but then in 1971 western scientists  “discovered” them to be still extant, though the natives were aware of their existence.  This was like discovering an existing population of mammoths.

The Chacoan peccary is closely related to a species of peccary that lived in North America until about 11,000 years ago.  Between 1930-1971 scientists thought they were an extinct Pleistocene species.

There are still many species of edentates in the Gran Chaco.  The edentates were an important component of North America’s fauna during the Pleistocene.  Several species of ground sloths, giant armadillos, pampatheres, and glyptodonts lived in North America then.  The Gran Chaco still hosts 10 species of armadillos, tree sloths, and the giant eater whose raking claws resemble the formidable armament of the extinct giant ground sloths.  The Gran Chaco is likely the center of armadillo evolution.

Giant armadillo

Giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus)

Anteaters are practical. They use their babies to make themselves look bigger and protect themselves.

Giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla)

Genetic evidence suggests the pampas deer was formerly an abundant species found over a wide area of South America.  Human hunting pressure has greatly fragmented and reduced the population of this species.  Swamp deer live in marshy areas of the Gran Chaco as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus).  All South American species of deer share a common ancestor with North American white tailed deer.

Two important predators in the Gran Chaco, jaguars and cougars, roamed southeastern North America during the Pleistocene.  The extinction of smaller species of megafauna limited the prey selection of the former, perhaps explaining its recent absence from much of the region.  Studies show the prey items selected by jaguars tend to be larger than those chosen by cougars.

Jaguar and cubs in the Gran Chaco National Park.

The avifauna diversity of the Gran Chaco is astounding as well.  There are over 400 species of birds native to the region, making it one of the richest bird watching sites in the world.  The diversity of wildlife here suggests the region was sparsely populated by humans until very recently.

The North Georgia Zoo

June 23, 2015

On the way home from our stay in Helen, Georgia we stopped to visit the North Georgia Zoo.  I was determined to see animals on this vacation.  The North Georgia Zoo is located in the middle of the boondocks about 15 miles west of Cleveland, Georgia.  The petting zoo costs $10 but to see the good stuff requires a payment of $26 per adult and visitors must be accompanied by a guide.

My favorite animal was a cousin of the human race–a white handed gibbon.  These lesser apes are social animals but the owners of the North Georgia Zoo were unable to attain a companion gibbon, so they raised it with 2 basset hound puppies.  The 2 now fully grown dogs share the cage with the gibbon who likes to ride on their backs.

The zoo is home for several species of kangaroos and wallabies including the largest kind–a red kangaroo.  That individual was relaxing in the shade on the ground with his back toward us, and I didn’t get a good photo.  But a smaller gray kangaroo was hopping back and forth.

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Llama.  I saw a couple fighting and spitting their cud at each other.  Yuck!

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African crested porcupine.  This individual was friendly.  Audubon said porcupines made good pets.

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Collared peccary.  I could see its sharp teeth when the zookeeper fed it a carrot.

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This kangaroo stopped hopping just long enough for me to photograph it.

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New Guinea singing dog.

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White handed gibbon.

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A seriema–the closest living relative of the extinct terror bird.

The zoo has a cougar, a serval, a caracal, and an Eurasian lynx.  I noticed the cougar was behind a double switching cage.  The guide said it’s not a good idea to be inside the cage when the cougar is feeding.

The New Guinea singing dogs have an interesting history.  They are closely related to Australian dingoes.  Seafarers from the subcontinent of India brought dingoes to Australia about 4300 years ago. These same seafaring people visited New Guinea and some of their dogs escaped and established a population here as well during this same time period.  Since then, the New Guinea singing dogs evolved some differences from dingoes and other dogs.  They are shorter than dingoes and have broader skulls, and they can climb trees.  Oddly enough, the females have a peculiar vocalization during copulation.  In general they are noisy “singing” dogs, hence the name.  Dingoes also live in southeastern North America where they are known as Carolina dogs.  Paleoindians brought them to America from Asia.  Dingoes and singing dogs are very similar to the first dogs domesticated by humans.  Reportedly, dingoes make good pets but are harder to train than most dogs and have a tendency to escape captivity.  The ones I saw at the zoo seemed a bit high strung.

I took photos of a llama and a peccary.  These animals were common throughout southeastern North America during the Pleistocene.  The zoo even had a seriema–the closest living relative of the terror bird.

The North Georgia Zoo is a noisy place.  A patron can hear a wolf howling, New Guinea dogs singing, the howls of basset hounds and gibbon, and the crowing of a peacock.

Friendly sheep dogs roam the grounds at night and protect the zoo animals from coyotes, foxes, and bobcats.

The deer and kangaroos could jump over the fences and escape, if they desired, but they are satisfied with their easy life in captivity.