BBC Wildlife Magazine

Meet the scientist

Chair of the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group Whitley Gold Award 2020 winner Dr Patrícia Medici leads the largest lowland tapir study in the world and plans to expand her work to the Amazon.

- FIND OUT MORE Whitley Fund for Nature: whitleyawa­rd. org; IPÊ:

Patrícia Medici tells us about her work with lowland tapirs in Brazil

After studying pathways used by tapirs in Atlantic Forest, we built the largest wildlife corridor in Brazil. T

When Patrícia Medici co-founded Brazil's Institute for Ecological Research (IPÊ) in 1995, the NGO’s focus was species conservati­on – particular­ly animals about which people knew very little: “I chose to study the largest land mammal in South America – the lowland tapir.”

The conservati­onist admits she only started to fall in love with the species after learning more about it. “These gardeners of the forest are super important as they play a key role in shaping and maintainin­g the ecosystem by dispersing seeds – 50 per cent of their diet is native fruits.”

The elusive herbivores are tricky to study but, after 25 years of working across the Atlantic Forest, Pantanal and Cerrado ecosystems, Medici has discovered that the solitary lowland tapir has a large area of use, equivalent to 500 football fields.

“It needs this range to find food, water and shelter,” she says. “If you conserve a lowland tapir population, you are conserving huge chunks of habitat, which benefits other animals and plants.”

Medici’s project includes mapping routes used by tapirs and reforestin­g these corridors to connect fragmented areas of forest and tackle climate change. “After studying pathways used by tapirs in Atlantic Forest, we built the largest wildlife corridor in Brazil, with the participat­ion of local communitie­s.” Adopting agroforest­ry practices sparked people’s interest and this evolved into all kinds of relationsh­ips – developing sustainabl­e businesses and educating people about the importance of the environmen­t. The main threats to lowland tapirs in Brazil

are deforestat­ion and habitat fragmentat­ion; poaching and hunting; pesticide used in large-scale agricultur­e; and road traffic. Medici’s conservati­on strategy is to identify, quantify and mitigate the known threat. Some of The Lowland Tapir Conservati­on Initiative’s greatest successes include reducing tapir roadkill with speed cameras and educationa­l signs, and raising the flag about pesticide contaminat­ion, after discoverin­g chemicals in tapirs.

Medici’s £60,000 Gold Award from the Whitley Fund for Nature will be used to study and reduce threats to tapirs in the Amazon, along the southern arc of deforestat­ion in Mato Grosso and Para states. “In four selected areas, we plan to focus on largescale agricultur­e and pesticides; forest management combined with logging; mining; and palm oil,” she says. The latter two are threats that the project has not researched before.

“The timing could not be more appropriat­e, given the current political situation in the country. Taking action now is particular­ly important to avoid wildlife and climate emergencie­s.” Jo Price

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