Baird’s tapir

Ed­uardo Naranjo shines a spot­light on Cen­tral Amer­ica’s largest land mammal.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild News -

Why study this species?

Baird’s tapirs were barely known or re­searched 30 years ago, and they still re­ceive lit­tle at­ten­tion from ecol­o­gists and the gen­eral pub­lic, com­pared to fe­lines, mon­keys and rap­tors, which are con­sid­ered more charis­matic. How­ever, we now know that Baird’s tapirs are an ideal fo­cal species to as­sess the im­pacts of for­est frag­men­ta­tion.

Where do they live?

These her­bi­vores in­habit low­land trop­i­cal forests, palm swamps and cloud forests, which pro­vide food, cover and wa­ter sources, where they can es­cape preda­tors, seek re­lief from the heat and try to get rid of ir­ri­tat­ing par­a­sites. His­tor­i­cally, Baird’s tapirs were found through­out south­ern Mex­ico, Cen­tral Amer­ica and north-west­ern South Amer­ica, but they have now dis­ap­peared from most of their orig­i­nal range. Cur­rently, they re­side in frag­mented forests in parts of Cen­tral Amer­ica and north-west­ern Colom­bia.

What are their big­gest threats?

Trop­i­cal for­est loss, due to farm­ing and log­ging, is putting Baird’s tapirs at risk. These mammals move over ex­ten­sive forested tracts and live at low den­si­ties, even in optimal habi­tat. There­fore, they need to in­habit a very large area to en­sure their pop­u­la­tions are big enough for ge­netic vi­a­bil­ity.

What did your re­search re­veal?

Our study has shown that many tapir pop­u­la­tions are suf­fer­ing from in­creas­ing iso­la­tion, con­flict with farm­ers, and road col­li­sions in un­pro­tected for­est frag­ments across south-eastern Mex­ico. How­ever, there is lo­cal re­cov­ery in large pro­tected ar­eas and in some places where peo­ple live.

What pro­tec­tion does the species now re­quire?

Ef­fec­tive man­age­ment and safe­guard­ing of habi­tat are nec­es­sary to con­serve the Baird’s tapir and en­cour­age con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween iso­lated pop­u­la­tions. I’d also like to see an in­crease in com­mu­ni­ty­based aware­ness to get peo­ple to look af­ter the species and its habi­tat; im­ple­men­ta­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly land-use prac­tices; and stronger en­force­ment of laws to com­bat de­for­esta­tion and poach­ing. LW

ED­UARDO NARANJO is a pop­u­la­tion ecol­o­gist work­ing in Mex­ico. FIND OUT MORE Trop­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion Science: bit.ly/baird­stapir

Baird’s tapirs use their short ‘trunk’ to strip leaves or pluck fruit from branches.

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