Camera Trap: The Tapir


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The tapir: Characteristics, ecological role and threats to its survival in the Cerrado

The tapir is an important herbivorous mammal belonging to the Tapiridae family. This species is native to South America and can be found in a variety of habitats, including rainforests, savannas, and temperate forests.

They are considered living fossils, as they have been on Earth for over 50 million years. There are four species of tapir, all of which are considered endangered or vulnerable to extinction:

  • Mountain tapir – considered endangered
  • Baird’s tapir – considered endangered
  • Lowland tapir – considered vulnerable
  • Malayan tapir – considered endangered

In particular, the South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris) is considered a critically endangered species.

Description and Behavior

Tapirs, fascinating creatures of the Cerrado fauna but not only, capture the attention with their majestic grandeur. Powerful and imposing, they can reach a weight of around 300 kg, with a massive body supported by sturdy legs, but in reality they are quite slow and awkward animals as they can reach a top speed of about 20 kilometers per hour. In addition, tapirs have poor vision, but they compensate for it with a well-developed sense of smell and hearing.

What makes them even more distinctive is their characteristic prehensile trunk, which gives them an aura of mystery and curiosity. In addition, they are considered the “cousins” of horses and rhinos.

Their fur, a chromatic palette ranging from brown to black, to gray, covers their body in a short but dense manner, perfectly adapting to their life in the different biomes that characterize their habitat. 

Fur of a baby tapir
Fur of a baby tapir

Although they may seem imposing and even intimidating, tapirs turn out to be predominantly nocturnal and solitary animals. During the bright hours of the day, they retreat into the folds of the vegetation, escaping sight, only to emerge from the shadows of the night in search of food and adventure.

Their diet is a tribute to the variety of plant delicacies that nature has to offer. Leaves, branches, succulent fruits, and nutritious roots make up the tapir’s menu, reflecting its ability to savor the riches of the plant kingdom.

These expert herbivores play a fundamental role in the ecosystem, contributing to seed dispersal and the maintenance of environmental balance.

Tapir, the forest gardener and its ecological role

Tapirs play a critical role within the Cerrado ecosystem, a role that goes far beyond their physical presence. These majestic herbivores, with their feeding and movement habits, act as true guardians of plant diversity. 

They are considered key seed dispersers, with a fundamental ecological task: through their appetite for succulent fruits and berries, they collect the seeds of future vegetation. However, it is in the digestion process that their influence is truly felt. The ingested seeds are then deposited in their feces in different parts of the habitat, ensuring a spatial distribution of plants and promoting growth in new areas.

But their role goes beyond simple seed dispersal. Tapirs also help to control the population of some plants, a natural balancing mechanism. Their diet is not limited to fruits; they also eat grass and shrubs. This behavior transforms them into true gardeners of the surrounding environment, preventing certain plant species from growing uncontrollably. 

baby tapir and his mom

Their impact on the Cerrado ecosystem is therefore a delicate dance of natural selection that helps to maintain biodiversity and environmental health.

Another aspect of crucial importance is their relationship with large predators such as jaguars and pumas. This predatory dynamic not only underscores the complexity of interactions within an ecosystem, but also plays a fundamental role in population balance. 

Tapirs, as prey for these majestic felines, influence the predator-prey dynamics in the Cerrado. This “predator-prey” balance helps to regulate the populations of all species involved, thus contributing to the stability of the ecosystem as a whole. 

In this way, tapirs embody an intricate network of ecological connections that keep the majesty and functionality of the Cerrado alive.

Threats to Survival

The tapir, despite its ecological relevance, faces a series of threats that cast a shadow on its survival. Among these, the increasingly extensive loss of its precious habitat stands out, a threat imposed by the relentless expansion of agriculture, intensive grazing, and deforestation.

The Cerrado ecosystem, once an untouched refuge for these magnificent herbivores, has suffered considerable damage due to these destructive human activities. This fragmentation of the natural environment has a profound impact, leading to the separation of previously interconnected areas and the depletion of resources available to tapirs. As a result, tapir populations have undergone a drastic reduction, with the challenges of survival becoming increasingly complex.

In addition to the devastating loss of habitat, hunting poses another threat of significant proportions to tapirs. In some cultures, tapir meat is considered a culinary delicacy, a belief that has triggered a dangerous poaching epidemic in various parts of the Cerrado. The demand for such delicacies, often based on rooted traditions and socioeconomic challenges, has further pressured tapir populations, endangering the already fragile ecological balance of the region.

The combination of habitat loss and indiscriminate hunting has made the fight for survival even more challenging for tapirs. Addressing these threats requires joint efforts from local communities, organizations, government authorities, and private entities.

Carbon Credits Consulting is exactly acting in this direction, promoting the conservation and reforestation of degraded at-risk areas, establishing protected areas, and implementing sustainable management strategies that consider the needs of local populations and the overall health of the ecosystem.

Interested in actively contributing to Tapir protection?

The Tapir
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