Medio Ambiente

Smithsonian partnering on tapir study in Ecuador

08/08/2019 The Northern Virginia Daily - Josette Keelor

One especially interesting thing he said they learned about tapirs so far is how adaptive the animals are to the mountains of Ecuador.

Photo: The Northern Virginia Daily

Photo: The Northern Virginia Daily

Scientists know little about what’s driving the decline of endangered mountain tapirs, a mammal that lives in Colombia, Ecuador and northern Peru.

One reason, said Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute research physiologist Dr. Budhan Pukazhenthi, is that they’re so difficult to track and find.

The mountain tapir is the most threatened of the five species of tapir (four in South and Central America, and one in Asia.) It has a woolly coat and white lips and at about 5 feet, 9 inches in length, looks a little like a cross between a black bear and an anteater.

Pukazhenthi estimates there are maybe 2,000 to 2,500 mountain tapirs in the wild, with only nine others housed in zoos in California, Colorado and Colombia.

“So there is very little known about them,” Pukazhenthi said.

Hoping to discover what’s causing the decline of wild tapirs, Pukazhenthi has joined fellow scientist Liza Dadone, vice president of mission & programs at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, in planning a series of expeditions to Ecuador to study the animals.

“I am one of the lead researchers on the project,” he said. “She and I came up with this idea and decided to pursue this project.”

To date, he said, their team of researchers has captured and collected about 15 animals. They plan to head back to Ecuador for two weeks in October to find some more and equip them with GPS collars to study their habits and habitats via satellite.

They have five collars, he said, “which means getting five animals, if we’re lucky.”

So far, he said, they’ve put collars on two animals, and others have been implanted with transponder chips.

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