Mountain Tapir Distribution in Colombia

Mountain tapir conservation in Colombia depends on the existence of natural populations of the species that may be able to survive various threat factors affecting their populations, whether of natural or anthropic origin.

In the face of these threats, the larger the populations affected by risk factors, the lower the risk of extinction. For this reason, management strategies for mountain tapir populations should focus on guaranteeing the existence of sufficiently large population units of the species so that the risk of extinction is minimal.

Do you have recent records of the presence of mountain tapirs in your area? ¿Tiene registros recientes de la presencia de dantas de montaña en su área?

Connectivity can be the key factor that guarantees the existence of minimum viable populations of mountain tapirs in Colombia, but in order to evaluate the level of connectivity  between habitat patches occupied by the species, we need to determine the current distribution of the species as a first step. Although for some areas there are databases with recent records of the mountain tapir, the main part of the historical distribution areas of the species in the country had not been recently sampled to determine the current presence of the species.

The most recent evaluation of the species’ distribution in Colombia was published in 2002, and describes how mountain tapirs inhabited in 35 habitat patches that totalized an area of 14.385 km2. However, the majority of those patches were relatively small and only four of them were over 1000 km2. 

Based on estimates of population density for the species, the authors considered that at that time there were around 2500 mountain tapirs left in the wild in Colombia. However, those estimates are likely speculative because the real density of mountain tapirs is still unknown. Moreover, at the time of the study it wasn’t clear the real occupancy of the areas supposedly inhabited by the species. Even areas as extensive as the Sumapaz National Park could not have tapirs, because there are not published data documenting the presence of the species there in recent times, despite being the type locality for the species.

A consensus between tapir researchers suggest that mountain tapirs occupy Andean forests and paramos mostly above 2500 meters, south of Bogotá in the eastern Andes, and south of Los Nevados National park in the central Andes. Mountain tapirs also inhabit the Colombian Massif and their distribution extends south to the border with Ecuador.

Authors of the distribution article of 2002 propose that a viable population of mountain tapirs should have between 1500 and 5000 individuals to be considered viable. However although they show that in Colombia the estimated population can fit inside that number, the true is that because of fragmentation no habitat patch could contain a population capable of containing that number of individuals. This situation is of big concern for mountain tapir conservationists, because it implies that there couldn’t be viable mountain tapir populations in Colombia and the species could become extinct in the meantime, if remaining population nodes are not reconnected in the short term.

Although some national parks represent distribution nodes for the species, it is necessary to reconnect those conservation areas through biological corridors. For that reason MTF is working on the assessment of the functional connectivity along the Guácharos-Puracé biological corridor in the Colombian Massif through the Puraguá Mountain Tapir Corridor. It is a pilot project that could guide the implementation of biological corridors in different regions were the mountain tapirs exists.

As mountain tapir density estimation is difficult and usually inaccurate, in MTF we prefer to get focus on monitoring the variation of occupancy of territories by the mountain tapir over time. We expect to determine occupancy patterns considering that they are influenced by changes on the conditions of tapir habitats over time. Monitoring mountain tapir through occupancy can help us to determine the fluctuations of their populations over time and identify when local extinctions are happening, so conservation actions can be implemented to reverse extinction processes.

While we work on the Colombian Massif with our pilot project, we’ll also work on the construction of a detailed distribution map for the mountain tapir in Colombia. We expect to receive the feedback of several different tapir researchers and conservation biologists from Colombia and other parts of the world.

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