Researchers discover thriving population of lowland tapirs, Latin America’s largest land mammal

January 22, 2013

Researchers discover thriving population of lowland tapirs, Latin America’s largest land mammal

Researchers discover a thriving population of Latin America’s largest land mammal.

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society have discovered a booming population of lowland tapirs, Latin America’s largest land mammal. These forest and grassland-dwelling herbivores with trunk-like snouts were spotted making themselves at home in a network of out-of-the-way national parks along the Peru-Bolivia border.

Based on camera traps and interviews with park guards and hunters, the WCS estimates that at least 14,500 lowland tapirs live in the region. Researchers say that the population links five national parks in northwest Bolivia and southeastern Peru.

The study is the culmination of more than a decade of research on lowland tapirs in the region. According to researchers, the study highlights the significance of this protected area complex for the conservation of Latin America’s land mammals.

“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 lead author Robert Wallace, of WCS’s Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Program, in a statement. “These results underline the fundamental importance of protected areas for the conservation of larger species of wildlife threatened by hunting and habitat loss.”

According to the WCS, the lowland tapir is the largest land mammal in South America. They can weigh up to 661 pounds. The tapir uses its snout to reach leaves and fruit. They are located throughout tropical forests and grasslands in South America, but their existence is threatened by habitat loss and hunting due to their size and low reproductive rate (1 birth every 2-3 years). The are also easy to spot at mineral licks in the rainforest, note conservationists.

The WCS gathered and systematized 1,255 lowland tapir distribution records in the region. These records came from research observations, camera trap photographs and interviews with park guards and subsistence hunters.

Camera trap data showed that lowland tapir numbers were higher at sites under protection than sites outside protected areas. The Tuichi River camera trap, for example, showed that lowland tapir numbers have been recovering following the creation of Madidi National Park in 1995.

The Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Conservation Program hopes that its work with government partners in Bolivia and Peru will create a local capacity to conserve the landscape and stop a variety of threats to biodiversity and wildlife in the area, such as lowland tapirs.

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

The study’s findings were discussed in detail in a recent issue of the journal Integrative Zoology. 

Photo credit: Mileniusz Spanowics/WCS


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