Mountain Tapir Project - Colombia

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

            ~ George Schaller

What is the mountain tapir?

The mountain tapir is a species of large mammal that is in danger of extinction, considering that there are no more than 2,500 individuals left in the wild. The species is distributed in the high Andean mountains, from northern Peru, eastern Ecuador and the southern part of the eastern and central Andean branches in Colombia.

Despite their high degree of threat to extinction, initiatives for their conservation are rarely financed by governments or international funds. Our initiative seeks to be the first long-term project for the conservation of this charismatic species.

Caught by the camera

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

What is Mountain Tapir Forever (MTF)?

MTF is an initiative that develops a conservation model for the mountain tapir in southern Colombia.  It could be adopted in other areas of its distribution.  It turns around the inclusion of local communities as the main axis of a strategy of intensive and long-term management of a population of the species.

We work in an area of ​​120km² that includes the Andean forests that are preserved in two hydrographic basins, with the watersheds being the natural limits of our work area.

Based on the population density estimates for the species, we calculate that our work area can support around 20 specimens of the mountain tapir. This population would be connected to neighboring populations that live along a biological corridor under legal protection that is more than 700 km² and that would house at least one hundred individuals of the species. Our long-term goal is to replicate our conservation model in the other watersheds located along the corridor in order to secure the conservation of the entire population.


Puraguá is an area of ​​120 km² where intensive management of a population of mountain tapirs is carried out and which has been proposed by the Mountain Tapir Forever project with the collaboration of  Huellas del Macizo Association from San Agustín (Huila, Colombia). It is located in the south of the department of Huila and is part of the Guácharos-Puracé biological corridor.

Image courtesy of Michiel van Noppen ©2022


Preserve a sample of the genetic heritage of the mountain tapir in a natural space of 120 km²

Keep the connectivity between mountain tapir populations living along a biological corridor of more than 700 km2.

Improve living standards of local people through initiatives linked to our project.

Hand over responsibility for the management and conservation of the mountain tapir to local communities in the long term

Research debunks myths

The tapir has always been considered a solitary species. However, what we have observed thanks to the images obtained with camera traps is that the species has a social interaction that we need to study better to understand it. This new evidence may influence management decisions for the conservation of the species.

What do we do

Monitoring and intensive management of a population of the mountain tapir in a territory with natural limits, but immersed in a broader conservation corridor with which it is naturally connected.

Implementation of sustainable productive projects for the local population that promote food sovereignty and result in a decrease in pressure on the tapir management area.

Establishment of a biological station associated with the management area to promote and facilitate research in the region where the project is developed.

Rural and nature tourism program that generates business opportunities for the local population.

Fair trade of local products that improve the income of families.

Education program for young people of school age focused on the development of skills that will allow them in the future to develop enterprises around the sustainable use of biodiversity.

Local residents participate in our initiative and find new alternatives for generating family income.

What threats does the tapir face in our area?

The main threats to the mountain tapir in Puraguá are the loss and degradation of their habitats due to the lack of sustainable productive opportunities for the local population. Also the ignorance of some local inhabitants about the importance of conserving the forests where the mountain tapir lives. Fortunately, hunting does not appear to be a current threat to the species, thanks to biodiversity monitoring projects in which some environmental leaders in the region have actively participated for more than a decade.

Mountain tapir is not alone

An oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus). Felines are well represented in Puraguá. In addition to the oncilla, we have recorded the ocelot and the puma.

What has been done?

For more than ten years, biodiversity monitoring has been carried out in some sectors of the Guácharos-Purace biological corridor, and we have been able to observe that in our study area there is a large concentration of individuals of the mountain tapir compared with nearby areas. We have thousands of photographic records where not only the tapir appears, but also other species that share its habitat, such as the Andean bear, the puma, the red deer, the coati, the taira, the ocelot, the tigrillo, the ñeque. and the armadillo.

The Huellas del Macizo environmental association was created as a community initiative and has developed multiple activities in research, education and community development. Currently this association is the main partner of Mountain Tapir Forever.

Main expectations

Our main goals are to acquire a very detailed knowledge of our study area, as well as of the mountain tapir individuals that make use of the intensive management area.

We also want to be able to establish a biological station from which research on the mountain tapir is promoted, but also on other species that we have observed thanks to the monitoring work.

Working with the communities is essential and we know that if our project generates opportunities for sustainable productive enterprises, the pressure on the mountain tapir will gradually reduce.

In the long term, our greatest expectation is that a sample of the genetic diversity of the mountain tapir be conserved indefinitely and that the local communities themselves ensure the future of the species in the region.

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.

How can you support us?

The sustainability of our project depends on the donations we receive either from individuals or from organizations with grant programs for conservation projects.

People who wish to make financial contributions to our project can do so through our PayPal account, where they can also make monthly donations and become our patrons. Our main goal is to develop a long-term conservation project for the mountain tapir, so we need to have a group of recurring donors who support us regularly.

Apart from our fundraising program through donations, we have been working on the production of merchandise alluding to the mountain tapir and we hope to start offering products that come from local communities within the framework of the fair trade initiative that we wish to implement. Please visit our store and order with confidence. It is an important way to support us and receive a nice souvenir from the project or an authentic product that has emerged from the work of local communities.

Know us

We are a small group of people who work hand in hand sharing our knowledge to achieve our goals. We work on a horizontal strategy in which we are all equally important when it comes to developing our initiatives. We consider the knowledge of our local partners to be as valuable as our knowledge gained in academia.


Our partners

Over the years we have been fortunate to work in collaboration with many organizations and a large number of people have joined our cause as volunteers, donors, field collaborators, counselors, service providers, among many others. We thank each and every one of them and hope to continue counting on their friendship and permanent unconditional support for the cause of the mountain tapir.

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

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