Tapirs are closely related to equids and rhinos, but represent a unique taxonomic group because they have retained many prehistoric anatomical traits, such as a prehensile trunk and splayed, hoofed toes. Such features allow them to navigate high altitude terrain and access leaves and fruits that would otherwise be out of reach. As they move across the landscape, tapirs then disperse these seeds, leading to their popular moniker as “gardeners of the forest”.
Mountain tapirs are the most endangered of the four tapir species, with fewer than 2,500 remaining in their native range (Colombia, Ecuador and Peru). Major threats to the species include climate change, habitat destruction, illegal hunting, and potential disease transmission with livestock. In Ecuador, we use satellite tracking data to help policy makers understand how tapirs use the landscape, identify corridors, and protect breeding habitats. This information will help local governments formulate land use and conservation plans to ensure tapir survival.
Since so little is known about mountain tapir habitat usage, every animal collared provides us with new and important information about the species. In addition to location, the GPS collars also collect ambient temperature and provide detailed information on the animal’s body position, which can be used to interpret its behavior. Collars weigh about 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), which is less than 1 percent of the tapir’s body weight and can provide data for up to two years. At that point, the collars will automatically drop off and we will recover them from the field.
Fellow & Head Quantitative Ecologist
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute Conservation Ecology Center National Zoological Park
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute Center for Species Survival
Ecologist, MoL Program Coordinator
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) Conservation Ecology Center National Zoological Park
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