Raising the profile of Tapirs

18 January 2012 | News story

Getting support from the general public for conservation projects can be hard when people know nothing about the species you are trying to protect. Patrícia Medici, Chair of the IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group has been working with great enthusiasm to raise the profile of the Lowland Tapir in Brazil with some exciting and novel events.

The Lowland Tapir (Tapirus terrestris), one of four tapir species, is a large mammal that occurs in eleven different countries across South America. However, due to deforestation and agricultural development, the geographical range of the Lowland Tapir has been drastically reduced. Further threats from hunting, road-kill and infectious diseases carried by domestic livestock have resulted in a decline of the Lowland Tapir population. To help protect Lowland Tapirs in Brazil the Lowland Conservation Initiative (LTCI), a program of the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (IPÊ), and the IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group have been working hard to carry out a long-term research and conservation programme.

In Brazil, many people do not even know what a tapir is. In fact, some Brazilians associate tapirs with being stupid and use the name as an insult! Therefore, Patrícia Medici and LTCI have thought of novel and attention grabbing ways to raise the profile of tapirs including a ‘Tapirs Helping Tapirs’ event where paintings made by tapirs in six American zoos were auctioned. This unique event caught the attention of Brazil’s media and was very successful at both raising money and raising the profile of tapirs in Brazil. Before and after the event, tapirs have featured in over 80 media appearances including online and printed articles as well as on national television including an interview with Patrícia Medici on Brazil’s famous talk show Programa Jô Soares.

“Tapirs have never, ever had this kind of exposure in Brazil,” says Patrícia Medici, Chair, IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group. “We want people to hear and learn about tapirs on a regular basis and to care about their survival. Their populations are declining rapidly in Brazil and support for the conservation of this species is urgently needed.”

There are still a number of things that the experts would like to know about tapirs, such as more information on their social organization and the impacts of different threats. Good estimates of population sizes are also still needed. Long term solutions for the conservation of tapirs are varied but the creation of protected areas and wildlife corridors that allow animals to move freely between different areas is very important. There are 120 members of the IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group across the world and they are all working tirelessly to find out as much as they can about tapirs and the best way to ensure their survival.