When you think of endangered species, you tend to think of animals such as lions, tigers, polar bears and so on.
Tapirs aren’t always in the centre of your thoughts – and for many people, they just don’t feature on the conservation and endangered species list at all.
Tapirs are a bit of a mystery to a lot of people. They live in Central and South America and also in southeast Asia.
Why do tapirs matter?
Tapirs are vital to healthy biodiversity. And like so many endangered species, they are facing extinction as human activities destroy their habitat.
They are very important to habitat. 50% of their diet is fruit. They eat the fruit and later disperse the seeds across the forest, so they maintain the structure and biodiversity of the forest.
In fact, they are known as the gardeners of the forest. And they are widely recognised as “umbrella species” for their protection indirectly protects a great many other species due to their need for a large area in which to live.
But they’re difficult to study; research needs to be undertaken however so that conservationists can understand their behaviour and how they use space and move through areas of land. Then the humans can get a feel for which areas are most important.
To raise awareness of tapirs and develop a community around tapirs and conservation. There’s a Facebook page and you can follow World Tapir Day on Twitter.
To raise funds to purchase land to protect tapirs from human encroachment.
There’s a store you can buy tapir goods from. Since it started, World Tapir Day has supposed the World Land Trust and the Rainforest Trust with their tapir conservation work and the purchase of land to protect tapir habitats.
Tapirs live in jungles, grasslands, swamps and cloud forest. These are all threatened by activities such as mining, palm oil plantations, roads or settlements.
And yet the tapir is a vital part of the ecosystem as a seed disperser. And their dung is a resource for ground beetles who also disperse seeds later on.
We need to protect the tapir and in doing so we’ll protect a great many other species at the same time.
Conservation projects are taking place. With the Lowland Tapir Project, since 1996, research has been carried out in three areas across Brazil:
the Atlantic Rainforest, which involved 12 years of careful research to learn all about tapir behaviour and as much about them as possible.
Then the Pantanal, the world's largest wetland to assess their conservation status; 50 tapirs have been seen here; and then
in the Cerrado, to evaluate the effects of different threats on tapirs. Tapirs here in this third area are under severe threat from deforestation, fragmentation of habitats, road-kill, fire and poaching.
Organisations involved in tapir conservation include: