A sanctuary for the conservation of the mountain tapir

It is often thought that the last alternative to save a species on the verge of extinction is to recover its last wild individuals and incorporate them into a captive breeding program, in the hope of succeeding and returning animals born in a controlled environment to their natural habitat.

Although there are stories of relative success in this strategy, such as the case of the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) or the black-legged ferret (Mustela nigripes), the truth is that it is very uncertain to succeed in a project of this type, which, by the way, is quite costly and difficult to develop. For this reason, it might be better to invest these important resources in the intensive management of small wild populations that can serve as genetic reservoirs for their species. In addition, zoos can lead this type of initiative as a new strategy to rescue endangered species.

In the case of the mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque), we are talking about a species whose population is estimated to be around 2,500 reproductive specimens, and although this figure needs to be revised, it can roughly give us an idea of its critical conservation status(1). Nevertheless, management efforts are very scarce and punctual, and there has been no continuity in the initiatives that have been developed in the past.

Aware of this situation, from our initiative we have been working on the design of a mountain tapir conservation strategy, which represents a real hope for the species to continue fulfilling its ecological function in the Andean mountains. This initiative is based on the establishment of a natural sanctuary for the management of the species, where a small protected population is stable and ecologically viable in the long term, and which in turn, serves as a genetic reservoir to ensure its conservation.

The proposal is based on the intensive management of a population of at least 100 mountain tapir individuals, which would represent about 4% of the estimated population worldwide. This population could shelter a large part of the genetic heritage of the species, which according to a recent study shows a low to medium genetic heterogeneity but, historically, a high genetic flow among its populations, not showing marked genetic differences among populations of diverse origin(2). This fact suggests that a natural population under management, such as the one proposed within a natural sanctuary, could be a potential source of individuals to repopulate areas where the species could be extirpated in the future, prior to the elimination of the causes of its disappearance.

Mountain Tapir Sanctuary in Colombia
The Mountain Tapir Sanctuary is an area of intensive management of the species that would cover a territory of up to 250,000 hectares. It is divided into three sectors: Puracé (yellow), CRC (green) and CAM (orange). The initial stage of the project focuses on the CAM (Orange) sector where there could be up to 100 mountain tapirs in an area of more than 50,000 hectares.

The site we have chosen to develop this initiative is a territory that includes the Puracé and Cueva de los Guácharos national nature parks, their buffer zones and the Guácharos Puracé biological corridor, which in theory serves as a bridge for the dispersion of the biota present in these national nature parks. This mountain tapir management area is part of the Colombian Massif, a mountainous area of strategic importance for Colombia, mainly due to its water wealth. At the same time, in this area and during the past two decades, the work on biodiversity conservation has been strengthened, thanks to the participation of local communities, who have taken the lead in the work needed to conserve forests and other natural resources in their environment, mainly through wildlife monitoring.

From the second semester of 2020, we expect to intensify our work in order to implement the priority actions to consolidate this project that has a long-term horizon and that we hope will be the beginning of the consolidation of an effective strategy to conserve the mountain tapir, not only in Colombia, but in its entire current range of distribution.

Due to the Covid-19 contingency, our main donors have had to suspend the financial support to our initiative, so we have resorted to a crowdfunding campaign to give continuity to the project in the next twelve months. You can support us by making a financial contribution or by sharing our campaign with your contacts. Saving the mountain tapir can be just a click away. Support us!

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