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.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Our Wildworld -

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.

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