Tapirus terrestris 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Perissodactyla Tapiridae

Scientific Name: Tapirus terrestris (Linnaeus, 1758)
Common Name(s):
English Lowland Tapir, Brazilian Tapir, South American Tapir
French Tapir D'Amérique, Tapir Terrestre
Spanish Anta Brasileña, Danta, Danta Amazónica, Gran Bestia, Tapir Brasileño
Hippopotamus terrestris Linnaeus, 1758

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2cde+3cde ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Naveda, A., de Thoisy, B., Richard-Hansen, C., Torres, D.A., Salas, L., Wallance, R., Chalukian, S. & de Bustos, S.
Reviewer(s): Shoemaker, A. & Medici, P. (Tapir Specialist Red List Authority)
This species is considered to be Vulnerable due to an ongoing populations reduction estimated to be slightly greater than a 30% in the past 3 generations (33 years) due to habitat loss, illegal hunting and competition with livestock, and estimated on current rates of decline this rate of decline is inferred to continue for the next 3 generations (33 years). Although this rate of decline seems improbable considering the occurrence in the vast Amazon - the fact is that the species has been extirpated over large portions of its range and severely reduced in other large portions. Lowland tapir populations seem unlikely to persist anywhere humans occur at densities any greater than 1/km2. The estimated 30% decline over 3 generations takes into consideration the entire global range and was calculated using an average of reduction between a variety of biomes. Although only about 15-20% of the Amazon has been deforested in the past 30 years, 90% of the Atlantic forests have disappeared and 40% of the Pantanal has been converted to human use. Most of the Cerrado and Caatinga biomes have been converted to agriculture and cattle ranching, however, this has happened over a period greater than 3 generations. Even where habitat remains populations are reduced and dispersed due to the effects of hunting - which is greatly amplified around increasing human populations and settlement of the Amazon basin, especially along rivers and in the Andean foothills. The effects of deforestation, hunting, and competition from domestic livestock have all contributed to population declines and fragmentation in the past and are inferred to continue at the present rate (if not more) into the future. Deforestation is increasing in certain parts of the species' range, while subsistence hunting and a developing wild-meat industry may cause further declines in the future. The lowland tapir is now either completed absent or severely fragmented across much of its historic range, with the Northern Amazon and the remaining Pantanal (Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay) becoming important strongholds as southern, eastern and northwestern populations declining rapidly.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Tapirus terrestris is found in lowland regions of northern and central South America, from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. Historically this species was found east of the Andes and north of the Espinal grasslands and shrublands of Argentina throughout the chaco, pantanal, cerrado, llanos, caatinga and Amazonian/Orinoco forests - however, populations have been severely reduced and often limited to forest biomes and wetlands. The species has been extirpated from the caatinga and dry chaco biomes. In the northern Andes the species has been extirpated from the dry inter-Andean valleys of the northern Andes and is becoming increasingly rare along the agriculture frontiers than are sweeping through parts of the western and southern Amazon basin. The distribution in the cerrado has been diminished to a few small populations in protected areas and those in the pantanal are rapidly declining.
Countries occurrence:
Argentina; Bolivia, Plurinational States of; Brazil; Colombia; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guyana; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Very little is known of populations of lowland tapir. Populations are being reduced across the range of the species but numerous strongholds exist - however, there is not sufficient information to extrapolate population sizes in these regions. Recently camera-traps have been effective for detecting presence but have proven difficult to estimate densities because it is hard to distinguish individuals in photos. A variety of density estimates have been proposed ranging from 0.20 to 3.7 individuals/km² (Medici pers. comm.). The most likely reason for this variation is both sampling and study design bias as well as the fact that lowland tapir, although generally rare and elusive, can be locally common (i.e. around salt lick and permanent and seasonal water sources). In fact great variation in density likely also reflects the results of both direct and indirect threats in the form of hunting pressure, protection and seasonal variation. Additionally, it can also reflect the tapir’s ability to adapt to different habitat types and availability of resources (food and water).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:T. terrestris inhabits lowland South American moist and swamp forests, dry and moist shrub lands and grasslands and a wide variety of wetlands. Habitat association varies extensively, although the most important habitats tend to be moist, wet or seasonally inundated areas (Bodmer and Brooks 1997). This species has been observed to be associated with both water and salt-licks. The degree to which tapir are tolerant to habitat degradation varies regionally, but genreally species tapir are a forest dependant species. To date, no conclusion has been drawn as to why tapirs may thrive in one partially logged or disturbed area and be absent from others, however, it can be infered based on other tapir species that loalnd tapir cannot tolerate large scale habitat change and hunting pressure.

Harald Beck (pers. comm.) reports that tapirs have higher densities in Amazonian forests that contain two crucial features: Aguajales and salt licks. Aguajales are palm swamps that typically range between 0.1 ha to over 100 ha and are dominated by the Mauritia flexuosa palm. The fruits of this palm are a crucial food resource for tapirs especially during the dry season. In fact, tapirs are the prime seed dispersers for this palm, indicating the close evolutionary relationship between both species. Furthermore, Aguajales have incoming streams or small rivers which may also be crucial for other ecological requirements of tapir's including thermoregulation. Thus Aguajales are an ecological hotspot and sustain higher tapir densities. Salt licks are smaller aquatic systems and may occur in clumped spatial distribution. Tapirs, among other mammals, frequently visit salt licks to obtain essential minerals. Hunters, knowing the tapir’s fondness for salt, wait at those locations because their success is dramatically increased.

Tapir are ecologically more prone to be impacted by hunting due to long gestation and generational time. Reproduction is slow enough to make recover difficult for the species is areas where there is any prolonged hunting activity. Hunting is a serious threat along the numerous new road systems, settlement and along the agricultural fronteir in the Amazon basin. Hunting also occurs around logging camps and can completely eliminate the species from seemingly viable habitat.
Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is hunted for food. Also, the skin is used internationally, with leather goods products having been seen for sale in Italy (A. Shoemaker pers. comm.).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The main threats to the species include loss of habitat through deforestation, hunting for meat and competition with domestic livestock. The impacts of hunting on populations are amplified by the very low ability of tapir to quickly repopulate impacted areas. Though several strongholds occur - populations have been severely reduced and fragmented across the entire Cerrado (Brazil), Atlantic forest (Brazil) and llanos (Venezuela/Colombia) biomes. In Argentina and both southern Brazil the species has been extirpated from the tropical and temperate grassland and shrub land - and are rapidly declining in the dry Chaco. Additionally the species has been extirpated from the entire Caatinga biome of eastern Brazil.

In the northeast, tapirs are present only inside protected areas where illegal hunting is minimal. Outside protected areas, they are still hunted, chased by dogs, and negatively impacted by competition with cattle and illegal timber activities. The species is in rapid decline along the eastern Amazon and its Southern Tributaries where extensive hunting and deforestation have reduced almost all large mammal populations. In addition populations are declining rapidly along the agricultural front spreading into western Brazil and along the Andean foothills of Ecuador and Colombia.

Although T. terrestris may be common in some areas of Argentina, it is sensitive to deforestation and human activities and the species has already disappeared in many areas of transition between montane and Chaco forests in Anta (a department of Salta Province). Although control has been more effective during the past year in this province, tapirs are still affected by illegal timber activities, hunted, chased by dogs, and negatively impacted by competition with cattle.

In Bolivia, tapirs are susceptible to hunting, and habitat degradation. While they may well be more common than expected in protected areas, as was found out in Costa Rica and elsewhere for T. bairdii, they do not fare well in the presence of hunting. In French Guiana, tapirs are regularly hunted and sold commercially for meat in markets and restaurants. Little information is available for the population in Guyana, however, tapirs are not protected here at present and are hunted by subsistence hunters as well as by a developing bush-meat industry as roads are cut into the forest for logging.

In conclusion it is difficult to calculate the overall impact of hunting on populations, but we can infer from previous studies that in the past 30 years extensive and ongoing habitat loss combined with hunting and accumulated indirect threats have been much greater than previously estimated, and much greater than would be suspected by looking at maps of remaining forest in the Amazon.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species occurs in numerous protected areas across its range. The species is officially and legally protected in many range countries, however, hunting laws are seldom enforced and therefore these have proven ineffective. It is listed on CITES Appendix II.

Citation: Naveda, A., de Thoisy, B., Richard-Hansen, C., Torres, D.A., Salas, L., Wallance, R., Chalukian, S. & de Bustos, S. 2008. Tapirus terrestris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T21474A9285933. . Downloaded on 19 September 2018.
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