Baird's Tapir Research
by Kendra Bauer
We currently have eleven tapirs radio collared with collars that use shortwave radio signals. We have to be fairly close (within about 100 yards) to these animals to get a signal and to know where they are. These are the collars that Charlie Foerster first put on animals 14 years ago. We are leaving the collars on these individuals so that we can keep track of each one. We are raising money for GPS collars so we can monitor the tapirs wherever they are in the world from where I live in Austin, Texas. When we get the GPS collars for the tapirs we can collect even more data on each individual. Some of the things we will be looking for with the new GPS collars are (1) if they are moving to other tapir ranges nearby their own ranges, and (2) how far the young are moving.
The other current project underway considers the effect large vertebrate herbivores have on the plant diversity of the rainforest. We have exclosures that exclude tapirs, as well as all large vertebrate herbivores, from a certain area. We then have "control" areas where there is no fencing—this allows tapirs and other plant eaters to get to the plants. After five years, we will measure the diversity of plants in all the exclosures and look at the difference between the two. We expect that there will be greater diversity in the control areas where all species are allowed to eat.
This research outlined above will help us make better decisions on the husbandry of captive tapirs as well as the management of the tropical forests. The impact the largest vertebrate herbivore has on the rainforest is consequential to the maintenance of diversity as a whole.
The number one cause of decline of the Baird’s Tapir, like many other species, is habitat loss. There are several organizations that are aware of this problem and are buying up land for conservation as it becomes available. However, this tactic has been proven unsuccessful if it is the only one used. Many researchers are finding that, in an age of global climate change, movement of animals is increasingly important to survival of the species as well as a healthy ecosystem. To help conserve the tapir, along with many other species, these isolated fragments of land need to be connected. The tapirs can show us the connectivity of isolated preserves through the use of GPS tracking collars. Ultimately, providing corridors to the tapirs allows them access to these isolated areas and will increase genetic and species diversity for an entire ecosystem. GPS collars will also aid in answering questions centered on the behavior and social structure of the tapir. The more we know about a species, the easier it is to conserve it for future generations and to allow humans and other animals to live more enriched lives in a connected environment.
If we do not keep our ecosystems intact, we will start to lose species to extinction. Currently there are several large mammals threatened by extinction, including the tapir. The tapir is affecting the ecosystem by eating 88 pounds of plants a day! They affect the plants that convert carbon dioxide to the oxygen that we breathe, and that help filter water so that we have fresh water to drink. Not only that, but we use plants for medications so we can remain healthy. Tapirs are helping to maintain the diversity of the plants by eating them and dispersing them throughout the rainforests of Costa Rica and Central America—some of the world's richest areas of diversity.
Everyone can help in saving the tapir and their ecosystem by educating friends and family on the importance of the tapir and its ecosystem. A statement from a National Academy of Science member, John Avise, sums up the need for this very well: Our generation has the opportunity to make a bigger impact on future generations than has ever before been true in human history. We can be remembered as the generation that let the environment that we depend upon slip into an unimaginable abyss of deterioration and biotic extinctions, OR we can be the awakened generation that enhanced and encouraged biodiversity and thereby managed to preserve the quality of life on earth.
About the author:
Kendra Bauer is a doctoral student at the University of
Texas in Austin, Texas.
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