What is the mountain tapir?
The mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) is part of a small family of ungulates related to rhinos and horses and represented by four species that inhabit the neotropics and south east Asia. In Colombia, the mountain tapir is adapted to the cloud forests and moorlands (páramos) of the eastern Andes, south of Bogotá, and Central Andes, south of Los Nevados National Park.
In the south of the country, in the region of the Colombian Massif where the central and eastern Andes meet, there is also an important and key population of mountain tapirs. In Ecuador it’s distributed along the eastern Andes and in Peru only inhabits a small area in the north of the country
The main morphological traits of mountain tapirs are a dark and hairy coat, white lips and a bald area in the rump, more conspicuous in mature individuals. Compared with other tapir species, the mountain tapir is the smallest of its family. As in all tapir species, calves are brown color with dots and lines resembling a watermelon.
Mountain tapirs are classified as endangered by IUCN red list of threatened species and its world population is considered as small as 2500 individuals and decreasing. The major threats for the species are lost and fragmentation of habitats as well as hunting. Mountain tapirs have a very low reproduction rate with only one offspring every two years, for that reason recovery of their populations is very slow.
What we do?
We work for the development of an integral strategy that makes a contribution to the conservation of the mountain tapir along its entire distribution area in the northern Andes of South America
Our project is located in the south of Colombian Andes in an area known as the Colombian Massif. There we develop a pilot project focused on the establishment of an extensive management area where a long term strategy for the conservation of the species is being implemented with strong emphasis on the participation of local communities in the activities of the project.
The project’s main components are: mountain tapir population and habitat management, education of local communities through a hands-on strategy, ecological research on mountain tapir and its habitats and community development through implementation of productive projects around responsible use of biodiversity.
The Mountain Tapir Management area is a set of protected and connected habitats covering an area of around 250.000 hectares that could harbor a population of around 500 mountain tapirs! The area is divided in three different sectors depending on local environmental agencies in charge of the territories
Community based conservation
Andean forest and páramo (moorland) conservation brings benefits to local communities that inhabit near those ecosystems. Agriculture and cattle raising strongly depend on a permanent supply of fresh water and many farmers still depend on firewood for cooking and heating. However, unsustainable practices on Andean forests and páramos are damaging those ecosystems in irreversible ways.
It is necessary to involve local people in productive alternatives based on biodiversity conservation. For that reason Mountain Tapir Forever is working along with community based organizations that are identifying alternatives that can improve living standards for people without destroying mountain tapir habitat.
We also involve local communities as part of our research about mountain tapir and Andean ecosystem ecology. Local groups are now specialized on infrared camera sampling techniques and we establish a dialogue in which our academic knowledge is combined with empiric knowledge of the local inhabitants to perform an efficient work that turns into faster answers to our research questions.
Mountain Tapir Habitat
Some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, are located in the high Andean lands of northwestern South America: the Andean forest and páramos (moorlands). However, those are constantly being replaced by crop and livestock fields mainly because of the productivity of its volcanic soils. Today just a small percentage of these unique ecosystems are left in areas above 2400 m.
Although these Andean ecosystems still provide humans with fresh water and clean air, there is always the interest of continuing with their exploitation through mining and the expansion of crop and livestock lands.
The continued transformation of natural ecosystems puts into major risk the future of some representative wildlife species of the Andes, especially the mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque), that is permanently being displaced to the upper lands where it tries to find food and shelter. However, fragmentation of the remaining forests and moorlands because of crops, livestock, roads, power lines, oil pipelines, etc., usually turns into the isolation of mountain tapir populations increasing the risk of extinction. For that reason there is a need to restore human transformed lands where it is required to guarantee the maintenance mountain tapir habitat integrity in the Andean region.
Role of infrared cameras
Infrared cameras play an essential role in our project, not only because they provide the data we need to analyze the ecology of the mountain tapir, but also because they have become the main tool for involving local communities in the protection of the species. We have seen how in areas where the community is involved in field work, installing and maintaining camera traps, cases of hunting of the tapir are now non-existent. For this reason, we focus our work primarily on this methodology and seek to establish new community monitoring stations in areas where we still receive reports of tapir hunting.
Although we already have two permanent monitoring sites in the forest with infrared cameras, we need to install new stations in sites where there have been recent reports of tapirs being killed by poachers. For this we need to acquire more cameras! You can help save mountain tapir lives by donating an infrared camera or by making a money donation for people in the community to perform regular maintenance to the monitoring stations that are currently operating.
Community leaders have the necessary skills to perform field methods. We work with them as a team and their empiric knowledge is as valuable as the academic knowledge of wildlife biologists involved in the project.
Do you have questions, comments, critics about this initiative? Leave us a message, we'll write back soon!
Do you want to support us?
Because of the pandemic, the zoological gardens that invest in our project had to cancel their support between August 2020 and August 2021. Also, our volunteering program was suspended. For that reason we decided to start a fundraising with the objective of covering basic expenses of the project that are around $1,000 USD a month. You can support our work through GoFundMe fundraising, but also you can donate using our PayPal button on the footer of this site or by donating an infrared camera. You can also visit our Support Us page to learn more about how to join us in our efforts to protect and conserve the endangered mountain tapir.