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Wondrous Wildlife - June 2011
By Vern and Lori Geiger
The Old Man’s Head
Everyone is familiar with Mexico’s little burros sporting a sombrero or the green iguanas with a colorful serape, but when one ventures beyond the tourist zones, you have a chance of seeing some truly amazing animals you’ve probably never heard of.
One such species is the Tayra, a cousin of the weasel and the otter. But, it looks more like something from the ‘Island of Dr. Moreau’, with a dog-like head and wrinkled facial skin on a mink-like body. Most tayras have dark brown or black fur with a lighter patch on its chest. The fur on its head changes to brown or gray as it ages.
Tayras live in the tropical forests of the Yucatan as well as Central and South America. Typically denning in hollow trees or burrows in the ground, they also may make nests in tall grass. They are a diurnal species usually traveling alone or in pairs; however, on occasions they may be seen in small groups of three to four individuals. They are particularly active at dusk and just before dawn. Tayras are both terrestrial and arboreal, and very fast runners. Despite their limited eyesight they are expert climbers. They have been reported to climb down smooth tree trunks from heights of greater than 40 meters. Terrestrial locomotion is usually composed of erratic, bouncing movements much like that of a ferret; with the back arched and the tail along the ground. Arboreal movements among the branches are fluid and graceful.
Tayras are omnivores and will eat almost anything, feeding on rodents and invertebrates, as well as tastier thing such as eggs and honey. Not to mention fruit; they can frequently be found raiding orchards. Tayras are quite social and playful and easily tamed. Indigenous peoples, who often refer to the tayra as cabeza del viejo, or old man’s head, in years past, kept them as household pets to control vermin. Today wild tayra populations are shrinking, especially in Mexico, due to habitat destruction for agricultural purposes.
Despite their wide distribution and relatively large size, scientifically speaking, surprisingly little is known about tayra, as to their reproduction, life span, home ranges and habits. It is documented that after a gestation of 63 to 70 days the female gives birth to a litter of two to three babies. Newborns open their eyes in about five to eight days and they nurse for two to three months. Some researchers believe this is per season with births occurring March thru July. Others believe that the tayra has monthly mating periods and is a non-seasonal breeder. Obviously researchers have much to learn about these curious creatures.
We would like to thank all our volunteers for their continued support at various events, and remind all that this time of year is especially difficult for wildlife; for those who live in country settings think about putting out a shallow container of water for wildlife, they will thank you for a drink and will be less likely to venture into your garden. If you find a wild animal in need of help you may contact us or if we are unavailable, you may contact the Fire Dept. 766-3615. If you are able to assist the animal, you can take it to Dr. Pepe Magaña in Riberas for treatment.