Lowland tapirs are a rather strange looking, and large, herbivore native to the forest and grassland environments of many parts of South America. Owing to their large size and reliance on mineral licks, they are rather easy to hunt, and this has resulted in their numbers falling in recent years. Habitat loss via deforestation is another primary driver of their decline in recent years. The IUCN currently has them listed as being a ‘Vulnerable’ species.
The Madidi National Park was created in 1995, to help preserve the habitat of many species, including the tapir. Recently, the Wildlife Conservation Society has been doing research in the park, and has been able to document a thriving population of the lowland tapirs, demonstrating just how successful protected habitats can be in preserving threatened species.
“Using a combination of camera traps, along with interviews with park guards and subsistence hunters, WCS estimates at least 14,500 lowland tapirs in the region. The population bridges five connected national parks in northwest Bolivia and southeastern Peru.”
The new study is the synthesis of twelve years of research on the lowland tapirs in the region. “Together with WCS studies on jaguars, the results underscore the importance of this protected area complex for the conservation of Latin America’s most charismatic terrestrial wildlife species.”
“The Madidi-Tambopata landscape is estimated to hold a population of at least 14,500 lowland tapirs making it one of the most important strongholds for lowland tapir conservation in the continent,” said the study’s primary author Robert Wallace. “These results underline the fundamental importance of protected areas for the conservation of larger species of wildlife threatened by hunting and habitat loss.”
Currently, the lowland tapir is the largest species of terrestrial mammal still extant in South America. It weighs up to 661 pounds (yet documented). “Its unusual prehensile proboscis or snout is used to reach leaves and fruit. Tapirs are found throughout tropical forests and grasslands in South America. However, they are threatened by habitat loss and especially unsustainable hunting due to their large size, low reproductive rate (1 birth every 2-3 years), and ease of detection at mineral licks in the rainforest. Lowland tapirs are considered Vulnerable by the IUCN.”
“WCS collected and systematized 1,255 lowland tapir distribution records in the region. These records came from research observations and camera trap photographs as well as interviews with park guards of Madidi, Pilón Lajas and Apolobamba National Parks in Bolivia, and Bahuaja Sonene and Tambopata National Parks in neighboring Peru, and subsistence hunters from 19 Takana and Tsimane’ communities.”
“Camera trap data revealed that lowland tapir abundance was higher at sites under protection than sites outside protected areas. At one site sampled over time, the Tuichi River, camera trapping has revealed that lowland tapir populations have been recovering following the creation of Madidi National Park in 1995. Prior to the creation of the park, loggers had hunted heavily in this area.”
“Madidi National Park contains 11 percent of the world’s birds, more than 200 species of mammals, 300 types of fish, and 12,000 plant varieties. The 19,000 square-kilometer (7,335 square mile) park is known for its array of altitudinal gradients and habitats from lowland tropical forests of the Amazon to snow-capped peaks of the High Andes.”
“Working with government partners in Bolivia and Peru, the Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Conservation Program aims to develop local capacity to conserve the landscape and mitigate a variety of threats to biodiversity and wildlife including lowland tapirs, including road construction, logging, unsustainable natural resource use, and agricultural expansion.”
The new research was just published in the December issue of the journal Integrative Zoology.
Here’s some more information on tapirs for those interested:
“In the wild, the tapir’s diet consists of fruit, berries, and leaves, particularly young, tender growth. Tapirs will spend many of their waking hours foraging along well-worn trails, snouts to the ground in search of food. Baird’s tapirs have been observed to eat around 40 kilograms (85 pounds) of vegetation in one day.”
“Adult tapirs are large enough to have few natural predators, and the thick skin on the backs of their necks helps to protect them from threats such as jaguars, crocodiles, anacondas, and tigers. The creatures are also able to run fairly quickly, considering their size and cumbersome appearance, finding shelter in the thick undergrowth of the forest or in water.”
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society
Image Credits: Mileniusz Spanowics/WCS; Tapir Adult and Tapir Baby via Wikimedia Commons