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 a local project that looks to have a regional impact that contributes to the conservation of the endangered mountain tapir

What is the mountain tapir?

The mountain tapir is a species of wild, medium-sized herbivorous mammal that inhabits the high Andean mountains of northern South America. It is related to horses and rhinoceroses, but retains most of the traits of its original ancestors.

Its most outstanding morphological feature is the presence of a short proboscis, which serves it to manipulate its food, consisting mainly of tender shoots of a great infinity of plants that grow in the Andean forests and moorlands (Páramos). It is a medium sized animal with an average length of 180 cm and height of 80-90 cm. Like the other tapir species, it has three toes on its back legs and four on its front legs.

The mountain tapir is distinguished from the other three species of tapirs by having a dense and long coat that protects it from the low temperatures that characterize the high Andean mountains. Another distinctive feature is the white fur that surrounds its lips which contrasts very well with the color of its black or dark brown fur. It is also the only species that presents a patch devoid of hair on the back of his rump.

Its conservation status is worrying, as there are probably no more than five thousand individuals of this species in its entire range, which mainly comprises the Andean ecosystems above 2400 m from northern Peru, through eastern Ecuador and to the south of the central and eastern Andean ranges of Colombia.

The IUCN classifies the mountain tapir as an endangered species. However, it is the species that has received the least attention from the scientific community, governments, zoos, international NGOs and conservation sponsors.

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 conservation project focused on strengthening a community based management area where a long term strategy for the conservation of andean biodiversity is being implemented since 2007.

The project’s main components are: ecological research, education and training of local communities on wildlife conservation and community development through responsible use of biodiversity.

Community based conservation

Andean forest and 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 we are 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 tapirs and related species. 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 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 of 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 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 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 to cover maintenance of 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.

Our partners

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    Would you like to support us?

    Our research and conservation activities strongly depend on the individual contributions of tapir lovers and fans. Funds received are used to cover expenses of personal, equipment and supplies You can donate using our PayPal account or you can contact us if you prefer some other alternative to make a donative. You can also donate equipment. We mainly need trail cameras to intensify our sampling efforts in the field. You can decide to become a patron through a regular contribution to our project and receive regular updates of our field activities. You can do it in PayPal by checking on “Make this a monthly donation”.

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