Beloved Tapirs Thrive In South America’s National Parks
January 23, 2013

South America’s Quirky And Beloved Tapirs Thriving In National Parks

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Lowland tapirs are strange forest and grassland-dwelling herbivores with trunk-like snouts. A group of scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has documented a thriving population living in a network of remote national parks spanning the Peru-Bolivia border.

WCS used a combination of camera traps and interviews with park guards and subsistence hunters to estimate the size of the population at around 14,500 tapirs in the region, spanning five connected national parks in northwest Bolivia and southeastern Peru.

The findings of this study, published in the December issue of Integrative Zoology, synthesize twelve years of research on the lowland tapirs in the region. The results, when combined with similar WCS studies on jaguars, underscore the importance of this complex of parks for the conservation of Latin America's most beloved land-based 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 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."

Weighing up to 660 pounds, the lowland tapir is the largest terrestrial mammal in South America, with an unusual prehensile proboscis or snout, which is used to reach leaves and fruit. Found throughout tropical forests and grasslands in South America, tapirs are threatened by habitat loss and unsustainable hunting due to their large size, low reproductive rate of one birth every 2-3 years, and the ease of detection at mineral licks in the rainforest. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers the lowland tapir to be a "vulnerable" species.

WCS researchers collected and systemized 1,255 lowland tapir distribution records in the region that came from observations and camera trap photographs. Records were also obtained from interviews with park guards of Madidi, Pilón Lajas and Apolobamba National Parks in Bolivia as well as Bahuaja Sonene and Tambopata National Parks in neighboring Peru, and subsistence hunters from 19 Takana and Tsimane' communities.

Camera trap data revealed Lowland tapir abundance was higher at sites under protection than at sites outside protected areas. Researchers sampled one site on the Tuichi River over time, where camera trapping revealed that the tapir population had been making a comeback since the creation of the Madidi National Park in 1995. Before the park's creation, loggers had hunted the tapir heavily in this area.

Some 11 percent of the world's birds, more than 200 species of mammals, 300 types of fish, and 12,000 plant varieties are contained within the boundaries of Madidi National Park, which covers 19,000 square-kilometers. The park is known for its array of altitudinal gradients and habitats, ranging from lowland tropical forests to the snow-capped peaks of the High Andes.

The Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Conservation Program aims to mitigate a variety of threats to biodiversity and wildlife, including lowland tapirs, and to develop local capacity to conserve the landscape by working with government partners in Bolivia and Peru. Some of the threats include road construction, logging, unsustainable natural resource use and agricultural expansion.

Julie Kunen, WCS Director of Latin America and Caribbean Programs said, "WCS commends our government and indigenous partners for their commitment to the Madidi-Tambopata Landscape. Their dedication is clearly paying off with well-managed protected areas and more wildlife."