Dr. Roulin, in a Memoir read to the Academy of Sciences in 1829, made known a new species of Tapir which he had discovered in the eastern Cordillera of the New Grenada, and whose existence he suspected in the middle Cordillera. When I read this memo I realized that the individual described comprised a second American species, which was unknown, I believe, even in its own country. I have tried to obtain more information on this new species - of which the above cited author was able to observe only two individuals, both males.
I first ascertained that, as Mr. Roulin had suspected, the Pinchaque actually does exist in the middle Cordillera, and it was there that I killed the individual which I will describe and whose hide I brought back to Europe.
I believe that the species is common, although unknown until quite recently to naturalists, and that its habits seem to approximate closely those of the known species. Thus, the observations of which it has been subject, renew interest in the common species and help to confirm some facts advanced about the known species by earlier writers but negated by modern naturalists.
It is principally by night that the Tapir Pinchaque frequents his steep haunts where the terrain is comprised of a clay/schist (salitre). The animals make shallow excavations; their teeth marks can be seen in regions where they are not bothered by pursuers.
Several times, while traversing the woods with Indians, who served as guides or carried my baggage, I have made use of the paths formed by these animals - particularly in the high-altitude regions where the atmosphere (almost always wet, humid and cold) helps give rise to a unique vegetation. Here the trunks of the trees and their branches are covered with small ferns and lichens (especially of the genus Usnea) which interweave themselves, forming a false floor. We were able to cross considerable distance at an elevation of 1 meter 30, to 2 meters 60 above the true ground! 1 We also took care to profit from the tapir paths (camino de Danta), or "royal routes," as the natives pompously call them, when one offered itself in our direction. I was astonished to see the breaches which these paths form in the woods, although tapirs usually walk single file, as I once had occasion to see at dawn, when four of them - one young - walked away from a salt deposit.
These salt deposits were so consistently frequented by the tapirs before they were seriously hunted, that one could be sure of finding the "lazy ones" by arriving at the salt licks with dogs just before sunrise. Generally, though, these animals are extremely wary. Even those traps set with ropes and tropical creepers by skilled natives near the salt deposit alarm the tapirs and they do not return to the trap sites. (These traps are set on the most frequented passages where tracks are seen as plentiful as they are around those watering holes secure from the reach of cattle.) I did find proof later, though, that the tapirs had returned to the salt deposit.
I have found these trails (rastros) from 1400 meters above sea level (elevation 4400 m.) almost to the foot of the snows of Tolima (Mr. Boussingault gives the lower limit as 4686). So we see that these animals can go from an area where the mean temperature is 18 deg. and 20 deg. Réaumur to another where the temperature may drop to zero at night [about 27 - 0 deg. C]. Although it will climb this high - where the ground is covered with graminae and frailejon (Espeletia grandiflora), and I have frequently seen the signs of its passing in such forms as the debris of young shoots (cogollo) of Espeletia, of which the tapir had eaten the tender parts - it appears somewhat uncomfortable in this terrain and prefers to inhabit the wooded lands. It even seems to prefer these dense woods of the cold region over the thinner vegetation in the somewhat lower "temperate zones."
Once in the water, the tapir will remain until it feels it is no longer in danger. I know of one case in which the tapir allowed itself to be beaten to death with large rocks which hunters dropped on its head, rather than leave the water. Occasionally it tried to elude pursuers by going up or down stream.
On land the animal is no more dangerous, and I know of only three cases in which these tapirs exhibited any aggression: the first relates to a tapir which, being pursued by viscious dogs, turned on them when it neared the water. The hunter approached the animal and was knocked over by its trunk when the tapir charged. The other two cases relate to females with their young: one knocked down a porter in the woods, and the other, in captivity, sent one person sprawling after they touched the young one with an umbrella. I have never heard of anyone being bitten by this species.
The specimen which I obtained was routed at 8:00 in the morning near the place called las Juntas at the foot of Mount Tolima, on the edge of the Combayma - at 1918 meters altitude according to Mr. Boussingault. It went directly for the water, and there was surrounded by dogs which bayed at it from the bank. The tapir remained stationary in the middle of the stream, from time to time lifting its trunk and making a noise which was almost completely drowned out by falling water and barking dogs. It strode against the current with apparent ease, and those dogs which attempted to reach it by jumping in after it further up were often submerged, but none was seriously hurt. (I believe that in such cases they very rarely are.) After our bullet left the tapir's heart through the aorta, the animal was still able to cross the river.
It was a young female individual which still had the remnants of the juvenile pelt on the posterior part of its body, where several bands, or stripes, and oblong spots of dirty white remained; the fur, very thick and shaggy, was brown, verging on black; the four legs showed lightly sprinkled white hairs, particularly between the thighs; some were seen under the stomach as well; white hairs around the sex organ; a white hairless stripe on each of the four feet; the edge of the lip on each jaw was sprinkled with gray hairs with brown outer edges; the snout was 80 mm.; from the end to the teeth; the animal held it inclined or hanging, the head was 54 cm. from the end of the snout to the inside edge of the ear; 80 mm. between the two ears; 38 cm. from the end of the snout to the nape; the ear, 115 mm. long, had its upper edge bordered with white hairs, a small tuft of white hairs could also be seen below its posterior edge near the concha; the neck was round, at the rump there was no depilated area. The hunters who had killed a large number of these animals (more than 30 or 40) a few years ago assure me that the naked area on the rump varies according to the individuals and that it is larger in the old ones; they believe that the animals acquire this callosity by rubbing while sliding on the very steeply inclined terrain. Whatever it may be, several of the skins I have seen preserved for domestic use (they are used as bedcovers) show these same areas more or less, spread out.
The stomach offered a great mass of different vegetable matter, freshly masticated; principally Chusquea scandens, as Mr. Roulin had already announced, and ferns (Helechos).
This animal's flesh is red, as is that of the bear, and is good to eat.
The result of my observation is that the species of Tapir Pinchaque prefers to inhabit the cold region of the Cordilleras and that, although it might often descend to the rivers or streams which flow through the gorges of the high mountains and which only offer much water upon their arrival in the temperate zone, it never ranges to the large rivers or watercourses in the low regions which are inhabited by the common tapir. The Mountain Tapir inhabits the same part of the Andes (at least in the New Granada area) in which Ursus ornatus [the spectacled bear] makes its home. My observations also establish some points on which Dr. Roulin was only able to offer conjectures, i.e.: 1) That the new species inhabits the central Cordillera as well as the Eastern chain; 2) that the pelt of the female is black, as is the male's; 3) that the pelt of the young is like that in the common species; 4) that the denuded place on the rump which appears regularly in the adults is not a congenital trait. Mr. Roulin had remarked on the absence of the white piping on the edge of the ears of the male individuals which he had observed: my young female showed this border; but does the difference depend on sex or on age? This is what I could not determine.
|1.||I cite this fact to show how similar circumstances - a low temperature and high humidity - can produce analogous effects in very different latitudes: the people who comprised the expedition of the Beagle actually observed in the southern extremity of America at sea level what I have seen at about 4 degrees north of the equator at an altitude of 3600 meters.|
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