TAPIR SPECIALIST GROUP
Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan
Status and Action Plan of Baird's Tapir
continued from Previous Page
In the northern part of Dpto. Choco both tracks and reports of local people verify this species' occurrence in Katíos National Natural Park (Raez and Rubio pers. obs. 1994, Renjifo pers. comm.). Emberas Indians report Baird's tapir in the Salaquí River Zone around Serranía de los Saltos, as well as along the Sibiru River south of the bocas del Baudó.
In Dpto. Valle de Cauca, local hunters reported an adult and offspring drowning in the Aguaclara River around 1975. Today however they are not present around Achicaya nor Aguaclara, although they may occur in higher montane regions (Constantino and Jiménez 1992). Tapirs are present around the Micay River and Guapi River basin and may occur in Paramillo National Park (Gast pers. comm.). Emberas Indians, Afro-American people, and other locals in the northwestern part of Utría National Natural Park report the species occurring there until the early 1970s (Dumasa pers. comm., Rubio pers. obs. 1992). The last individuals seen were an adult and offspring which were hunted (Dojirama pers. comm.). In contrast, people in the northern region of Utría report that tapir were present until more recently, the last one being seen in 1986 (Sarco pers. comm.).
In southwestern Colombia, in Dpto. Nariño, ungulate populations have been depleted, probably because of over-hunting (Orejuela 1992). The tapir is extremely rare and little known, even to the native Awa who still have a traditional subsistence system of livelihood (Orejuela 1992).
From this information we may deduce that tapirs were probably always naturally rare in Colombia, but especially so during the last two decades. Moreover, although possible or bonafide occurrences have been reported in three protected areas (Katíos, Paramillo, and Utría National Natural Parks) they have never been reported from more than half of the protected regions within their Colombian distribution. These areas of absence include Farallones, Tatamá, Sanquianga, Munchique, and Orquídeas National Natural Parks. Thus it appears that most National Natural Parks do not harbor tapirs in the Choco, with the possible exception of Katíos where Baird's tapir occurs.
Conservation laws and education
Baird's tapir is considered an endangered species in Colombia (Anonymous 1992). Be that as it may, strengthening of current legal protection for the species is needed. Feasible environmental conservation programs are underway in Katíos National Natural Park, Dpto. Choco in conjunction with Panamanian programs.
Although Baird's tapir is naturally rare in Colombia due to geographic barriers, habitat destruction remains the major threat today. Land utilized for agriculture, timber extraction, and gold mining all contribute to habitat fragmentation. Such fragmentation results in isolated and decreased populations over the years.
Although tapir are preferred game, they are not utilized by indigenous and ethnic groups in contemporary times. This perhaps is owing to the fact that there are virtually none left to take throughout much of the Choco. The fact that tapirs are naturally rare, have low reproductive rates, and long interbirth intervals makes them especially poor subjects for harvesting regimes.
There are 43 areas in the Colombian system of protected areas totaling around 95,000km2, (8.7% of the Colombian territory). Additionally there are 54 Reservas Forestales Protectoras covering some 3,610km2 (Sánchez and Hernández-Camacho 1995). However, only a small fraction of these provide protection for Baird's tapir. Unfortunately, the number of protected areas in the Choco biogeographical province is clearly insufficient, not only because of the small area covered by the reserves, but also because of the patchy distribution of many species (Hernández-Camacho et al. 1992).
Agrarianism: Human agrarian activities occupy vast quantities of habitat which tapir populations need. Topographic factors are considered by humans when selecting agricultural zones. Although utilized in a rotating fashion, river plain is preferred by humans (primarily Afro-American and Indian populations) for crops. This habitat is more severely impacted for agrarian purposes than any other habitat in the tapir's Colombian range. The expansion of the agrarian frontier with monocrops is the chief factor causing habitat loss for many species. Banana plantations and other cash crops pose particular threats, as they are prevalent throughout the tapir's range. Crop expansion in recent years has been especially prevalent in the lower and middle regions of the Atrato River basin. Although cash crops yield economic benefits for impoverished rural populations, agrarian development competes with tapirs which utilize river plain as their primary habitat (Fragoso 1991b). This is particularly evident in the northern zone around the mountain ridges of Baudó, the Saltos, and the Darién where agriculture is only feasible in alluvial valleys which offer the richest nutrients and the flattest ground.
Archaeological remains have been found in these regions (Vargas pers. comm.), suggesting these habitats were utilized by humans prior to the Spanish invasion. This is especially evident along the Atrato River valley which harbors a higher human population density than other regions in the northern zone, and is dominated by villages, agrarian zones, and gardens. Indeed tapirs may have occurred here in previous centuries. As early as 1513 the conquistadors of Cabeza de Balboa initiated their expeditions along the upper Atrato and by the 17th century missionary centers were established along the Atrato (Vargas 1993). Another factor contributing to the agricultural explosion during these centuries is that mining zones along the western Baudó ridges became increasingly common but depended upon agricultural centers along the eastern ridges for their resources.
All of these factors indicate that the tapir's favored habitat was occupied by human populations as early as the 16th century. The fact that human occupation was prevalent in this area for so long may indicate that hunting was a possible cause of tapirs becoming so rare in this region.
Nonsustainable forestry: Timber extraction causes extensive forest clearance which ultimately results in removal of food resources needed by tapirs and other species such as white-lipped peccaries (Tayassu pecari). Next to agrarian development, timber extraction is the second most serious threat to tapir habitat. Wood extraction is especially common in tropical forest within the lower Atrato Basin and south of the Choco biome.
Gold mining: Since the 18th century colonists have exploited rivers and associated plains throughout the Pacific basin for gold mining. This exploitation has caused great damage to the rivers through extensive sediment and mercury contamination which poisons drinking water. These gold mining concessions are abundant throughout most of the region south of the Choco biome and east of the Atrato river.
Hunting: Throughout the neotropics tapirs are preferred game for human consumption. However in contemporary times tapirs are not hunted by the Embera Indians, the predominant indigenous ethnic group occupying the entire Choco biome (Raez and Rubio pers. obs. 1994). It appears that the Embera Indians have generally decreased wildlife utilization. The lack of tapir in diets appears to be the general pattern of Indians inhabiting the Choco biome as noted by several previous investigations of game utilization by indigenous tribes in this region. White-lipped peccaries were the preferred game of Embera Indians along the San Juan River (Wassen 1935); consequently peccaries are scarce in this region today. Similarly the Wauana along the lower San Juan River did not hunt tapir (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1960). Indians also did not consume tapirs along the Chicue River, a tributary of the middle Atrato River basin (Isacson 1975). The native Awa who still have a traditional subsistence system of livelihood are not even familiar with the tapir as a game species (Orejuela 1992).
The reason for Indians and Afro-Americans not utilizing tapir does not appear to be taboo (Rubio unpubl. data). Embera Indians consumed tapir in other regions such as Panama, where tapir populations were concentrated (Bennett 1962, Torres de Arauz 1972). The tapir is an important and favored protein source for different ethnic groups due to its large size and the quantity of meat it an yield. However agrarianism and other forms of habitat alteration dampened the tapir populations substantially, especially over the last 100 years. Moreover, with an increasing number of tapirs hunted by colonists, they are not nearly as common as in previous decades. For example although tapirs and white-lipped peccaries were important game species traditionally, populations of both species are depleted today in the Utria National Natural Park (Rubio pers. obs in 1992, Paez and Rubio pers. obs. 1994).
The historic southernmost limit of the distribution of Baird's tapir was in southwestern mainland Ecuador, near Guayaquil (Hershkovitz 1954). There is no recent field information from this country, but it is possible the species is very seriously endangered, if not already extirpated from Ecuador (G. Paz y Miño pers. comm.).
As of June 1994 the Ecuadorian system of protected areas had 18 established areas (Mena-Vasconez 1995). Overall they cover 40,533km2, which is equivalent to 15% of the country. There are other areas which have been proposed for inclusion in the system. As in many other countries, protected areas in Ecuador have serious problems of deforestation, unplanned colonization, and illegal hunting (G. Paz y Miño pers. comm.)
Of all the national protected areas in Ecuador Baird's tapir could probably be found only in Reserva Ecológica Cotocachi Cayapas (2,040km2) on the western slope of the Andes. It is included in the Proyecto SUBIR (Sustainable Uses of Biological Resources Project) which is one of the largest conservation efforts in Ecuador (Mena 1995). In the lower parts of the reserve live the Chachi (Cayapas) and there are a few settlements of Tsachela (Colorados) (Mena 1995).
In addition, the Reserva Etnica y Forestal Awa, including areas in both Colombia and Ecuador, protects the land and resources of the Awa people. A 264km2 protected corridor to link Reserva Ecológica Cotocachi Cayapas and the Reserva Etnica y Forestal Awa has been proposed, but implementation may be difficult (Ortiz and Quishpe 1993). These reserves protect the last large, relatively continuous, area of forest in western Ecuador.
The forests of western Ecuador are severely threatened, as more than 90% of the Pacific lowland and foothill forests below 900m have been transformed to agriculture (Dodson and Gentry 1991). The three principal habitat types in western Ecuador are tropical moist, wet and dry forest. It has been estimated that only 4% of the original tropical moist forest, 0.8% of the tropical wet forest, and 1% of the tropical dry forest remains in western Ecuador (Dodson and Gentry 1991).
The Awa, from northwestern Ecuador and southwestern Colombia, were reported to eat the meat of Baird's tapir, but the species is now considered rare even by these people (Orejuela 1992). Apparently, the Cayapas also used to eat tapir (G. Paz y Miño pers. comm.). There have been no records of this species for several decades, and most information about Baird's tapir available from Ecuador is uncertain (G. Paz y Miño pers. comm.).
Baird's tapir (continued)
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- Where to obtain printed copies
Brooks, Daniel M.; Bodmer, Richard E.; Matola, Sharon (compilers). 1997. Tapirs - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. (English, Spanish, Portuguese.) IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. viii + 164 pp.
Online version: http://www.tapirback.com/tapirgal/iucn-ssc/tsg/action97/cover.htm
Copyright © 1997 International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
Chair: Patrícia Medici
Deputy Chair: Sheryl Todd
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