TAPIR SPECIALIST GROUP
Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan
Status and Action Plan of the Lowland Tapir
Continued from Previous Page
Comparison of hunting effort in Bolivia and Ecuador
Hunting effort has also been used to evaluate whether lowland tapir populations have been overharvested. The absence of lowland tapir in the harvest of native and rural people suggests that lowland tapir have been severely depleted in certain areas. For example, lowland tapir were not hunted by the Yuqui in Bolivia suggesting that the tapir has been depleted (Stearman 1990).
Vickers (1991) also used hunting effort to evaluate the hunting of lowland tapir by the Siona-Secoya Indians of northeastern Ecuador. Vickers (1991) compared the kill rate in a 1150km2 Shushufindi Territory of the Siona-Secoya Indians between 1973-1982. The number of kills per man-hour of hunting of lowland tapir decreased during the period between 1973-1975, but remained stable between 1979-1982. A change in kill rate is presumed to reflect a change in abundance and can be used as a measure of the sustainability of the hunting pressure. It appears that the hunting of tapir by the Siona-Secoya Indians in this area is relatively sustainable, since there was little change in the kill rate of tapir over the latter period (Vickers 1991).
Summary - are lowland tapirs susceptible to overhunting?
Overall, the lowland tapir is very susceptible to over hunting. In five cases reviewed, the tapir was shown to be overhunted, and in only one case did the hunting appear to be sustainable (Table 5.3).
|Table 5.3. Studies that have examined the sustainability of tapir harvests.|
The low reproductive productivity of lowland tapir measured as rmax (intrinsic rate of natural increase) appears to influence this susceptibility to overhunting. Indeed, the reproductive productivity of sympatric Amazonian game mammals, measured as rmax correlates well with the susceptibility of species to overhunting. Species with high values of rmax are less susceptible to population declines due to hunting than species with lower values of rmax (Bodmer 1995). Lowland tapir have a relatively low value of rmax and are accordingly susceptible to overhunting.
Hunting as a threat in other regions: Colombia, Venezuela, French Guiana, Brazil, and Argentina
Indeed, overhunting is a major threat to the lowland tapir throughout its range. In Colombia the species is listed as endangered due to indiscriminate hunting, among other factors (Inderena 1986). Local extinction has occurred in certain areas of the Venezuelan Llanos, where a single individual sighted in the early 1980s was the first record from that area in approximately three decades. Although listed as a game species in French Guiana, tapirs have decreased in hunted regions versus non-hunted regions (C. Julliot pers. comm.). Additionally, overhunting is a major threat in parts of the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado including the states of Roraima, Acre, Rondônia, Mato Grosso, and Goias (Fragoso, Leeuwenberg in litt.); the South Atlantic forest including the states of Espirito Santo, São Paulo, and Paraná (Pinder, Chiarello, Olmos in litt., Galetti and Chivers 1995); and northern Argentina (Barquez et al. 1991) among other places.
Non-food use of tapir in Paraguay, Argentina, and Peru
Paraguayan and Peruvian aristocracy sometimes keep pets on their estate lawns where the animals are poorly cared for and often succumb to malnutrition, resulting in more animals being taken from the wild (Brooks 1991, n.d.). Paraguayan mission Indians (primarily Moros) use the thick hide to make sandals which are frequently purchased by tourists as souvenirs(Brooks 1991). Similarly in north-central Argentina tapirs are becoming scarce due to hunting for the hide (Mercolli and Yanosky 1991). In north-central Argentina it was common to use tapir hide from the backstrap, neck, and front legs to make reins and harnesses (Chalukian in litt.). Today these are mostly used by wealthy ranchers as ornamentation (Chalukian in litt.).
Tapirs and palms
Lowland tapir range throughout the tropical forests and savannahs of South America. However, lowland tapir do not use all of these habitats evenly, but selectively use certain landscape features, particularly those important as food sources. One food type of importance to lowland tapir are the palm fruits. Indeed, lowland tapir consume large quantities of fruit for their body size. In a study in northeastern Peru fruit constituted 33% of tapir diets, while leaf and fiber constituted 66% of tapir diets (Bodmer 1990). The fruits consumed most frequently by lowland tapir are palm species, especially the pulp of the Mauritia flexuosa palm (Bodmer 1990) and the pulp and seed of the Maximilliana maripa palm (Fragoso 1994). Other palm fruits commonly consumed by lowland tapir include those from the Oenocarpus bataua, Scheelea sp, and Euterpe edulis palms (M. Galetti pers. comm.).
Lowland tapir actively search for stands of palm trees and selectively use these habitats. In addition, lowland tapir play an important role in the maintenance of palm forests through seed dispersal (Fragoso 1994, Bodmer 1991, Rodrigues et al. 1993). Through spit dispersal the tapirs disperse Mauritia flexuosa seeds within palm patches (Bodmer 1991). This enables young Mauritia flexuosa plants to grow in areas away from the parent plant and in areas with less competition for sunlight.
Lowland tapirs are the most effective dispenser of Maximilliana maripa on Maracá island in northern Brazil (Fragoso 1994). Tapirs disperse Maximilliana maripa by passing seeds whole through their digestive tract and defecating the seeds in clumped areas known as latrines.
Rodents in turn often act as secondary dispensers and remove Maximilliana maripa from tapir defecations (Fragoso 1994).
Threats to palm forest in Amazonia and other regions
Rural people throughout South America also harvest large amounts of palm fruit. Palm fruits are the most important non-timber plant resource in the Amazon and contribute 61% of the market value for wild fruit production in the Peruvian Amazon (calculated from Peters et al. 1989), with fruits of Mauritia flexuosa and Oenocarpus batana being most important Mauritia flexuosa palms occur in virtually monotypic stands in the Peruvian Amazon and account for approximately 2.35%, of the Peruvian rainforest (CORESPA 1986).
In the Peruvian Amazon Mauritia flexuosa and Oenocarpus batana are being cut down at alarming rates to harvest fruits (Vasquez and Gentry 1989). Rural people cut palms, because the physical structure and height of the trees render climbing almost impossible and very dangerous. For example, Mauritia flexuosa trees often reach 40m in height and have a stegmata wood bark (containing silica bodies) that is extremely hard and slippery (Uhl and Dransfield 1987). Harvesting of fruit is leading to the local extinction Mauritia flexuosa in many areas of the Peruvian Amazon. Indeed, the patchy distribution of this palm helps rural people in locating and collecting fruits. Harvesting of Mauritia flexuosa has already destroyed many palm swamps close to villages.
Threats to palm forest are prevalent in other regions besides Amazonia. Overharvest of palm hearts, especially of Euterpe edulis, which is a favored food of the tapir, remains a serious threat in São Paulo, Brazil (Galetti and Aleixo 1995). Additionally, the overharvesting of palms is also a threat in the Brazilian Cerrado (Leeuwenberg in litt.).
Unfortunately, both tapir and people use palm fruits. In contrast to rural inhabitants, the tapir helps maintain productive palm forests by dispersing seeds. Thus, the tapir plays an important role in the production of many palm plants.
Rural people in many parts of South America sell palm products in the city markets and these products provide important income for many rural households. By destroying the palm forests, local people are also harming tapir populations by reducing the potential nutrient intake of tapirs, which in turn will lower their reproduction levels. This in turn will make tapir populations even more susceptible to local extinctions, especially if hunting is concurrent with the destruction of palm forests.
Threats to other habitats in Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina
Considering the tightly coupled mutualism between tapirs and palms, preservation of palm habitat is imperative to maintain tapir populations. Destruction of other types of habitat is rampant in other parts of the lowland tapirs range. Although such landscapes are not always characterized by a palm dominated plant community, it is equally important to identify threats to these other tapir habitats.
The Guyana Shield and Cerrado: Logging, mining, and road building activities are increasing throughout Guyana (Parker et a/. 1993) and Malaysian timber companies are beginning to invade Suriname (Barongi pers. comm.). Fragmentation and isolation of suitable habitat is the major threat to tapir in the Cerrado of Acre, Rondônia, Mato Grosso, and Goias, Brazil (Leeuwenberg in litt.). Since the late 1970s the major threat to tapir in the Cerrado has been its conversion to soybean megaplantations mainly for export (Olmos in litt.).
The South Atlantic Forest: Only 8% of native forest remains in Espirito Santo, Brazil, and illegal logging still occurs (Chiarello in litt.). Clear-cutting for pasture-lands and soybean plantations is the major threat to tapir where the South Atlantic forest borders the Brazilian Pantanal (Pinder in litt.). Poorly managed timbering and development for extensive coffee and sugarcane plantations has resulted in nearly complete deforestation in the Atlantic forest of São Paulo, Brazil, with less than 8% of the native forest surviving mostly in the coastal mountains (Olmos in litt.). Surveys in the northeastern Paraguayan Oriental (Dpto. Curuguaty) failed to reveal evidence of tapir in areas with timber activity (Brooks pers. obs.).
The Chaco: The Paraguayan Chaco is being cleared primarily for cattle land (Brooks pers. obs.). Moreover the Ruta Trans-Chaco highway which bisects the Chaco horizontally was initiated in the 1960s and is expanding at a rate of approximately 28km/year (Benirshcke et al. 1989). Construction of this road facilitates access into all parts of the Chaco. Habitat conversion is one of the major threats to tapir in northern Argentina (Barquez et al. 1991). In north-central Argentina the greatest threat to tapir is largely attributed to increased agriculture causing environmental deterioration (Mercolli and Yanosky 1991).
Tapirs and reserves
Some countries have too few protected reserves. For example in the entire country of Guyana there was only one established reserve in the early 1990s (Parker et al. 1993). In other cases protected areas are not of sufficient size to maintain populations of at least 500 tapir (Redford and Robinson 1991). At least 72% of Brazilian parks in tropical humid rain forest, and 32% of Amazonian conservation units are too small to maintain populations of at least 500 lowland tapirs (Redford and Robinson 1991). Although tapirs currently survive in fragmented islands of at least 15km2 in South Atlantic forest, it is likely that populations will not be able to survive in fragments smaller than 50km2 in the long term (Chiarello in litt.). Additionally, fragmented populations without corridors will be subject to the deleterious effects of inbreeding, decreased encounter-rates among individuals for reproduction, and overcrowding due to insufficient dispersal routes.
In addition to the size of a reserve, its distance from human settlements is also important. For example, lowland tapir populations in Maraca Island Reserve, Roraima (Fragoso in litt.), Iguacu National Park, Paraná (Pinder in litt.), reserves in Espirito Santo (Chiarello in litt.), Serra do Mar and in the vicinity of Morro do Diabo State Parks in São Paulo (Olmos in litt., Galetti and Chivers 1995), and perhaps other reserves and parks in Brazil suffer from poaching (Pinder in litt.). The lowland tapir was one of the species recently extirpated by poachers at Ilha do Cardoso State Park (P. Martuscelli pers. comm.). Another source of mortality is the roads that cross the Morro do Diabo and Serra do Mar parks; tapirs being regularly found as road-kills (Olmos in litt.). Colonization of remote areas is the major threat overall in Roraima (Fragoso in litt.) and São Paulo, Brazil (Olmos in litt.). An additional threat is that parks are often understaffed and poorly equipped (Galetti and Chivers 1995). As a model, Defensores del Chaco National Park, Paraguay has a low human population ,and therefore supports the most concentrated tapir populations in the Paraguayan Chaco (Brooks 1991). Low human populations enhance tapir populations, due to reduced hunting, less disturbance, or a combination of these factors.
Lowland 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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