MOUNTAIN TAPIR PROJECT

“A large animal needs a large area.
If you protect that area, you’re also protecting
thousands of other plants and animals.”

            ~ George Schaller

We are working for the management of a natural refuge where a population of the mountain tapir can be conserved forever, under the leadership of local communities.

The problem to be solve

The future of the mountain tapir is uncertain. It is estimated that there are only a few hundred individuals of the species left in the wild, while the captive population is too small as to consider it as an alternative to save the species from extinction.

In the wild, mountain tapir populations are fragmented and resulting subpopulations can become extinct because of stochastic and deterministic factors.

Aware of this situation, we decided to develop a management model for the species that can help us to integrate isolated populations into larger, long-term viable populations.

Our first step will be to study a small wild population that can be intensively managed in an area with natural boundaries and connected with other populations, in order to guarantee its long-term conservation. This intensively managed population could also be a source of individuals to repopulate areas where the species will become extinct in the future.

A mountain tapir captured in a camera trap inside the Puraguá Wildlife Refuge in San Agustín, Huila. Mountain tapirs are mostly nocturnal, but also active during the day.

A Pilot Project

Puraguá Wildlife Refuge: A long-term mountain tapir intensive management area.

We have undertaken a pilot project to evaluate the feasibility of our proposal in an important mountain tapir distribution point in the southern Andes of Colombia. There is a biological corridor of 730 km² legally protected that connects the national parks of Puracé and Guácharos. In the center of this corridor we have delimited an intensive mountain tapir management area, called Puraguá Wildlife Refuge. This area includes the territories of two micro-watersheds belonging to the municipality of San Agustín (Huila).

We started the work with the participation of the local environmental NGO Asociación Huellas del Macizo. With them we are continuously monitoring the mountain tapir population and associated species using camera traps in monitoring stations. We are analyzing the images obtained to have a better idea of the size of the mountain tapir population, as well as many aspects of the ecology and behavior of the species in the wildlife refuge.

Main goal

Our main objective is the conservation of a mountain tapir population, through intensive management, in a strategic point of its distribution in the southern Andes of Colombia. Since part of the area chosen for mountain tapir intensive management is located within private lands, we are working with the landowners to promote the conservation of the forest.

We also hope that this initiative will become an alternative to ex-situ management of endangered species that are difficult and very expensive to keep in captivity. Zoological parks can join us through an alternative educational strategy, where they show their visitors the work carried out in the field by a group of conservationists who study and protect the mountain tapir, with the participation of the local people.

Puraguá Wildlife Refuge

The Puraguá Wildlife Refuge is an intensive wildlife management area of 120 km2, proposed by the mountain tapir project led by the Huellas del Macizo de San Agustín Association (Huila, Colombia). It is located in the south of the department of Huila, it is part of the Guácharos-Puracé biological corridor and it is the area where the mountain tapir, which is the focal species of this wildlife refuge, has been most frequently identified. 

It was decided to delimit the territory that belongs to the Granadillos and Balseros river basins as an intensive wildlife management area, because it is the area of influence of the Huellas del Macizo Association. The name Puraguá was used to refer to the biological corridor where it is included. The goal is to manage this area as a wildlife refuge, not only for the mountain tapir, but for all the biodiversity associated with this species, which is managed by the local community and where the threats to which the biodiversity is normally exposed, especially hunting and habitat loss, are minimized.

In the future, it is expected that this management model will be replicated in the other watersheds that make up the Guácharos-Puracé biological corridor to ensure the ecological integrity of this regional natural park, which connects the biota present in the central and eastern mountain ranges in the Colombian Massif region and where a viable mountain tapir population may exist.

Puraguá Wildlife Refuge (in yellow): This intensive wildlife management area, with an extension of nearly 120 km2, serves as a refuge for a small mountain tapir population. We work in two micro-watersheds, where we have established permanent monitoring stations using camera traps. Since 2017 we have been working on the consolidation of this project, which counts with the participation of the local communities and seeks to establish a research station that promotes studies on the mountain tapir, its habitat and associated species.

Mountain Tapir Research Centre

A research centre focused on the study of the mountain tapir is a necessity for the conservation of the species. In the Puraguá Wildlife Refuge we have all the conditions to establish a biological station where scientists can come to develop research not only on the mountain tapir, but also on the ecology of its habitat and associated species such as the spectacled bear, the puma and several other fauna species that inhabit this intensive management area.

We hope to build a field station with capacity for up to ten researchers who can stay close to the wildlife refuge and with the basic infrastructure to efficiently develop their field work.

Education for conservation

We are also working on the establishment of a citizen science based education program, for which we are cooperating with the school closest to the Puraguá Wildlife Refuge. The students will help us to collect the information we need to understand different aspects of the tapir and its habitat. Our objective is to train students in topics related to biodiversity conservation. We seek to establish a space called “biodiversity observatory”, where the students will develop different activities such as workshops, lectures, training, exhibitions, etc.

Former farmers are now becoming local guides for birders and biologists like the members of our team

Productive alternatives for local comunities

Since the protection of the tapir intensive management area depends on the landowners not destroying the forest, we have been working on the development of a strategy that identifies productive activities linked to biodiversity conservation. For this, we hope to train the owners of the properties in forest-friendly production systems. At the same time, we want to implement fair marketing projects for the products generated by the owners of the farms dedicated to tapir conservation, as well as for the people living in the buffer zone of the intensive management area.

An oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus). Felines are well represented in the Puraguá Wildlife Refuge, with the puma (Puma concolor) being the largest species.

We protect many other species

Although the focal species of this project is the mountain tapir, we are also protecting species that share its habitat. Until now along with the tapir, we have registered the presence of other large and medium size mammals like the spectacled bear, puma, red deer, armadillo, taira, ocelot, cotati, woolly monkey and many others. There is also a big diversity of birds and other groups like small and flying mammals still need more study. The plants are also well represented and there are small populations of endangered trees that could also be protected inside the intensive management area of the mountain tapir

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 by 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.

Although we already have two permanent monitoring sites in the forest using infrared cameras, we need to install new stations in sites where we still lack of information about the presence of mountain tapirs. For this we need to acquire more cameras! You can help us to learn more about tapirs by donating an infrared camera or by making a money donation to cover maintenance of existing monitoring stations.

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.

Team

We are a team of four people in charge of the project and a large number of collaborators from the local population, state environmental agency officials, national parks, environmental NGOs, etc.

Task Force

General Coordinator: Sergio Sandoval-A. Biologist BSc specialist in large Andean mammals.
Education Coordinator: Ana Yined Urbano. Science teacher. El Rosario Rural School.
Field Manager: Hector Males Silva. President Huellas del Macizo Association. Technician in management of biodiversity monitoring stations. Farmer.
Scientific advisor: Oscar Wilson MSc. Biologist University of Cambridge UK.

Partners

Bertha Rojas Peña: Coordinator of the Regional Natural Park Guácharos Puracé Biological Corridor. CAM.

Katherine Arenas: Threatened Species Program Coordinator, CAM.

Would you like to support us?

Our research and conservation activities rely heavily on individual contributions from tapir lovers and enthusiasts. The funds received are used to cover the costs of personnel, equipment and supplies. You can donate using our PayPal account or you can contact us if you prefer an alternative way to make a donation. You can also donate equipment. We mainly need camera traps to intensify our sampling efforts in the field. You can decide to become a patron by making a regular contribution to our project and receive regular updates on our field activities. You can do this on PayPal by checking “Make this a monthly donation”.

TAPIR STORE

We opened our Store!

Now you can also help us by buying a product that we have designed for mountain tapir lovers. In the short term we will be adding more products that you will be able to buy online and have them delivered to your home.

We have been talking with local communities about establishing a fair trade program, so that they can receive fair payment for their products when they are sold through our online store. We hope to offer products such as coffee, fruits, honey, handicrafts and many other products. We are in the exploration phase, so we hope to be able to include products from local communities here soon. 

Join our team

If you are interested in contributing to the advancement of our conservation project, you may have some skills that you can use to help us achieve our goals. There is a lot of work to be done, from designing graphic material to promote the project, to data analysis. You can join us as a researcher, thesis student, intern or volunteer. We are working to provide a place to stay for our collaborators, but in the meantime we have alternatives for those who would like to visit us. Please fill out the form below, and tell us how you can help us.

Do you have questions, comments or criticisms about this initiative? Do you want to join our partners or volunteer? Leave us a message, we will get back to you soon!

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