February 11, 2013

Welcome to Tapir Eden


A group of scientists recently came together with park rangers and native communities to solve a difficult question: 

How many tapirs are there in the Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape of northwest Bolivia and southeastern Tambopata Peru? 

Tapir crossing the Tambopata River. Image by Jeff Cremer.

Tapirs are the largest mammal in the Amazon, but their large size doesn’t mean they’re easy to find. In fact, they are notoriously really difficult to see, and most researchers and guides I know who work in the Amazon have only seen a handful due. These odd-looking creatures look similar to a horse but are actually more closely related to the rhinoceros. 

My only sighting wasn’t by my eyes, but by my camera trap I set up, a video of which can be seen here. Researchers for this study used this same camera-trap technique, in which you put motion and infra-red detecting cameras in areas of high mammal activity in order to monitor and detect populations. 

While many mammal studies rely entirely on camera trap images, these researchers also included the one thing that could give them insight to how the tapir populations have changed over time: humans. 

They interviewed park rangers and native hunters to further gain insight into tapir behavior, tapir hang outs, and tapir numbers. The combined data suggested that tapir populations are increasing throughout most of this range due to ecotourism projects and government efforts which help protect the forest and minimize hunting.

The analysis suggested that there are between 15,000 and 35,000 tapirs in this range- possibly more tapirs than there are humans! To read the full study, check it out here.

Note the ticks on the tapir's head and the odd snout.
Image by Jeff Cremer.

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