Why is this mountain tapir wearing a collar? His movements and behaviors are being tracked via satellite! This information helps Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute scientists study the elusive animal’s biology and find solutions to help animals and people coexist in their native habitat. Get the scoop on tapir research from reproductive physiologist Budhan Pukazhenthi, veterinary technician Lisa Ware and ecologist Jared Stabach.PHOTO: When animals are anesthetized, veterinarians cover their eyes to minimize visual stimulation. In this picture, veterinary technician Lisa Ware is administering fluids to help ensure a smooth recovery from anesthesia.
What are your favorite facts about mountain tapirs?
Pukazhenthi: Tapirs are very charismatic, yet not many people know much about these species. Evolutionarily, tapirs represent a unique taxonomic group; they have retained most of their prehistoric anatomical traits. They are well adapted to climbing steep slopes efficiently, since they live at such high altitudes — between 3,200 meters and 4,300 meters above sea level. Their babies are absolutely cute and sport a brown and white watermelon-like pattern when they are young.
What role do tapirs play in their ecosystem?
Pukazhenthi: Tapirs are called the “gardeners of the forest.” As such, they are extremely important for maintaining forest biodiversity. Their diet consists primarily of fruits and leaves. As the seeds pass through their digestive tract, they are dispersed throughout the habitat. If tapir populations were to decline further, we would see a very different forest over the next several decades.