When a tapir appears, don’t forget your specs
After camping out for four days in Corcovado National Park, Sara Frost’s tapir encounter didn’t quite go to plan.
I saw bushes shuddering and heard the thud of slow, heavy footsteps.
Excited hushed voices woke me from an uncomfortable sleep. As I opened my eyes the frantic flickering of a torch beam was darting around the camp. The silhouette of a ranger appeared alongside my tent. “Tap-eer!” he whispered.
Ready for action, I threw myself out into the jungle’s humid darkness. The torch illuminated a patch of trembling undergrowth at the jungle edge, 10m away. Branches snapped loudly as a huge, grey beast calmly emerged from the trees and walked alongside our tents. Part horse, part hippo in appearance, the endangered, swamp-loving Baird’s tapirs have been so heavily hunted that they are now rarely seen. I couldn’t believe my luck – but something was wrong. Giving my eyes a frustrated rub, I wondered why I could only see a grey blur. I realised it was my glasses – I’d left them in the tent. With no time left, my heart sank as the grey blob trudged into the trees. I’d missed my chance.
I was camping in Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, which is known as a remaining stronghold for tapirs. It's only accessible by boat or plane and I’d endured several days of travel, including two boats of questionable seaworthiness to get there. It is forbidden to enter this remote jungle without a professional guide, as the risk of death is so high if someone gets lost.
On the final morning I was still kicking myself when my guide took me out to look for sharks on the coast. We didn’t see any… but as we headed back I saw bushes shuddering and heard the thud of slow, heavy footsteps. A powdergrey, trunk-like nose protruded from the bush, moving up and down and smelling the air. It was an enormous adult male tapir and he stepped out from the bushes and into the stream, his soft nose gently sniffing the water before taking a silent drink.
I could admire now what I had missed before: gentle black eyes, hippo-like feet, thick stocky legs and beautiful white fur edging on the ears. I took a photograph as the tapir started to plod upstream and out of sight. I was delighted to have captured a memory of this wonderful creature that was actually in focus.
Clear vision: Sara’s second tapir sighting was more successful than her first.