The lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) is the largest mammal native to South America. In the past it was one of the most abundant species, but now it is threatened with extinction. The reason is human activity, specifically isolation, hunting and death under the wheels of vehicles.

Critical decline in tapir population

This beautiful creature weighs about 250 kilograms and is very adaptable, it can adapt to almost any environment. They can move deftly on any terrain and they are also great swimmers. Even their diet is adaptable, feeding on more than 200 species of plants, fruits, leaves, twigs and bark. Their adaptability has ensured that they have been present on planet Earth since the Eocene and have survived waves of extinction. Unfortunately, they have low reproductive potential. The female is 13 months pregnant and has a break of up to 3 years between births.

When there are many predators in the environment, there is easily a significant decline in the tapir population. They are easy to trace and that is why people often hunt them. These creatures are very susceptible to environmental destruction. As early as the beginning of the 16th century, tapirs occurred throughout the Atlantic rainforest, which spreads over Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Within 500 years, they were almost exterminated. In the 19th century, tapirs were eradicated in coastal areas and in areas with lower slopes. The rest of the tapirs were exterminated due to the evolving infrastructure.

Black speckled area represents the geographical limits and fragmentation pattern of the Atlantic Forest. Each number refers to a particular population. Image credit: The researchers.

Tapirs need to be intensively protected

Kevin Flesher from the Biodiversity Study Center and Patrícia Medici, coordinator of the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative, started studying tapirs in 1996. Until then, little was known about the state of their population. They visited individual reservations, talked to local people and analyzed the available data files. The study revealed that the Atlantic Forest hides about 48 tapir populations and a total of 2665-15992 pieces, which cover 26,000 square kilometers of forest. Since the arrival of Europeans on the continent, the population of tapirs has decreased by 98%. However, the main reason for the decline in the population is their hunting, which has not yet ended and is still taking place in 95% of the forest, where these animals occur. Highway deaths that occur near 6 reservations are also responsible for numerous deaths. The study was published in the journal Neotropical.

What will be the future of tapirs?

There is a need to talk more about this issue. Fortunately, we can find tapir populations in all Brazilian states, as well as in Misiones in Argentina and in nine forest reserves in Paraguay. The largest populations are in Misiones and the neighboring reserves of Iguaçu and Turvo, in Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul. The great enemy of tapirs today is their isolation. Extensive deforestation has made for tapirs only a small area where they can move. Most forests have less than 50 hectares.

Researchers are calling for measures to increase the tapir population. Currently, the population of tapirs is stable, but what are the prospects for the future? Many people consider the present to be the world’s sixth extinction. Biodiversity is falling sharply and wildlife populations have fallen by two-thirds in the last 50 years. Loss of their natural environment and trade in animals can account for 70% of animal loss.

Unless efforts are made to protect tapirs, they may become extinct in the future.


Image credit:
Pixabay, Yutube screenshot: Smithsionan channel, Andreas Kay