Extensive Network of Researchers Mobilizes to Understand and Protect Imperiled Species Across Central America
For immediate release
September 19, 2017
Preventing the extinction of the endangered Baird’s tapir requires an understanding of the specific habitat currently sheltering the estimated remaining 3,000 to 5,000 tapirs across Central America. A new study from Global Wildlife Conservation, the University of Texas, the IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group and partners has helped provide the most comprehensive and accurate maps to date of the forests and woodlands these tapirs rely on—and highlights the collaborative spirit of a network of conservationists using these data to save the species.
“As our scientific tools and methods continue to advance our understanding of the natural world, it is imperative that we use that information to develop strategies that help prevent extinctions and recover our planet’s biodiversity,” said Cody Schank, a University of Texas PhD student, GWC associate conservation scientist and lead author on the paper. “This is a great example of how cutting-edge science can be designed to inform effective on-the-ground conservation to save a species as unique, charismatic and threatened as the Baird’s Tapir.”
The study, published Sept. 18 in Diversity and Distributions, uses a new statistical model to determine the distribution of Baird’s tapirs across their range from southern Mexico to northern Colombia. Based on these data, conservationists can more accurately pinpoint priority landscapes and wildlife corridors essential to the species’ survival and develop and implement strategies to best protect those places.
The study’s model included data from a network of biologists, connected primarily through the Tapir Specialist Group, a unit of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN SSC). More than 30 researchers contributed data, which included camera trap images, direct observations of the species and indirect observations of the species (such as scat or tracks) in eight countries: Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and Belize.
“The problems that wide-ranging endangered species like Baird’s tapir face are too big and too complex for any one individual or organization to address,” said Patricia Medici, chair of the IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group. “We need a truly collaborative culture that transcends individuals, organizations, disciplines and countries if we are going to save the world’s four tapir species from extinction. This new study exemplifies this kind of culture, one that we have worked to foster for decades within the Tapir Specialist Group.”
Baird’s tapir populations have suffered declines of more than 50 percent over the past three generations as the result of widespread hunting and habitat loss across their range. Some of the largest core areas for the species have lost between 25 and 30 percent of their forest habitat over the past 15 years, leaving less and less habitat where the species can live safely or connect easily to one another for breeding.
“One of the best aspects about this paper is that almost all of the co-authors are active tapir conservationists,” said Chris Jordan, GWC’s Nicaragua program director. “So as we continue to work together to refine our understanding of which core areas and wildlife corridors are critical to the survival of Baird’s tapirs, our results are not just being printed in a journal but are being used to inform regional conservation planning and action. In the coming years, GWC will continue to work with the Tapir Specialist Group to mobilize a broad community of tapir conservationists and researchers and ensure that we achieve consistent conservation progress for tapirs globally.”
Now that researchers have used this model to determine where the species lives, they aim to use the model to predict how many individual animals live in specific geographic locations. First, however, they need to have more accurate information about the size of the species’ home range. With this information in hand, conservationists will be able to predict where Baird’s tapir may experience local extinctions—and when—if efforts to mitigate the threats are not in place.
Additional authors on this paper are: Michael V. Cove, Marcella J. Kelly, Eduardo Mendoza, Georgina O’Farrill, Rafael Reyna-Hurtado, Ninon Meyer, Jose F. González-Maya, Diego J. Lizcano, Ricardo Moreno, Michael Dobbins, Victor Montalvo, Carolina Sáenz-Bolaños, Eduardo Carillo Jimenez, Nereyda Estrada, Juan Carlos Cruz Díaz, Joel Senz, Manuel Spínola, Andrew Carver, Jessica Fort, Clayton K. Nielsen, Francisco Botello, Gilberto Pozo Montuy, Marina Rivero, Antonio de la Torre, Esteban Brenes-Mora, Oscar Godínez-Gómez, Margot A. Wood, Jessica Gilbert and Jennifer Miller.
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Photo: Female Baird’s Tapir in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica (Photo by Nick Hawkins)
Global Wildlife Conservation
Austin-based Global Wildlife Conservation envisions a thriving Earth where all life flourishes. GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by preserving wildlands, restoring wildlife and engaging with global guardians. Driven by science, GWC maximizes its impact through conservation solutions in research and exploration, land purchase and protected area establishment, protected area management, poaching prevention, and capacity building. Learn more at www.globalwildlife.org
IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group
The IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group (TSG) is a scientific organization founded in 1980 as one of the 120 Specialist Groups of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC). The TSG conserves biological diversity by stimulating, developing, and executing practical programs to study, save, restore, and manage the four species of tapir and their remaining habitats in Central and South America and Southeast Asia. Learn more at www.tapirs.org
Lindsay Renick Mayer
Global Wildlife Conservation