Tapirs thrive in remote national parks

Posted by Kate Taylor

Wildlife Conservation Society scientists have discovered a healthy population of lowland tapirs in a network of national parks spanning the Peru-Bolivia border.

Using a combination of camera traps, along with interviews with park guards and subsistence hunters, WCS reckons there are at least 14,500 lowland tapirs in the region.

"The Madidi-Tambopata landscape is estimated to hold a population of at least 14,500 lowland tapirs making it one of the most important strongholds for lowland tapir conservation in the continent," says the WCS's Robert Wallace.

"These results underline the fundamental importance of protected areas for the conservation of larger species of wildlife threatened by hunting and habitat loss."

The lowland tapir is the largest land mammal in South America, weighing up to 661 pounds, and uses its odd, prehensile snout to reach leaves and fruit. While tapirs are found throughout tropical forests and grasslands in South America, their large size and low reproductive rate mean they are threatened by habitat loss and hunting. They're on the IUCN's 'Vulnerable' list.

But the national parks appear to be doing a good job, with more tapirs to be found within them than outside. At one site, the Tuichi River, camera trapping shows that lowland tapir populations have been recovering following the creation of Madidi National Park in 1995. Before that, loggers had hunted heavily in this area, says the WCS.

Now, with government partners in Bolivia and Peru, the Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Conservation Program is working to conserve the landscape and mitigate threats from road construction, logging, unsustainable natural resource use and agricultural expansion.

"WCS commends our government and indigenous partners for their commitment to the Madidi-Tambopata Landscape," says Julie Kunen, WCS Director of Latin America and Caribbean Programs. "Their dedication is clearly paying off with well-managed protected areas and more wildlife."