Tapir in South America

The lowland tapir in Brazil, and Baird’s tapir in Central and South America

Pati Medici collecting tapir footprints in the Atlantic Forests of Brazil.

Pati Medici collecting tapir footprints in the Atlantic Forests of Brazil.

Pati Medici collecting tapir footprints in the Atlantic Forests of Brazil

Destruction of the native neotropical forest of the lowland tapir has caused it to be classified as Endangered on CITES appendix II. Baird’s tapir, also a South American species, is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List 2002

We have been working for several years with Patricia Medici, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group, to adapt FIT for monitoring the lowland tapir in Brazil. Pati has designed and coordinated an unrivalled collection of footprints from captive tapir all over Central and South America, and we have extracted a robust FIT algorithm for this species. Pati is now continuing the development of footprint monitoring from her base in the Brazilian Pantanal.

17.lowland_tapir-300_250We have also worked with lowland tapir in Argentina, in association with Silvia Chalukian, director of the lowland tapir conservation and research project in Salta, and with Baird’s tapir in association with Jeremy Radachowsky of the University of Florida. The FIT algorithm has proven able to differentiate the two species where they are sympatric (some parts of Colombia and Ecuador).

Most recently we have partnered with Dr Dani Moreira to use FIT for monitoring lowland tapir in Brazil:


Moreira, D. O., Alibhai, S. K., Jewell, Z. C., da Cunha, C. J., Seibert, J. B., & Gatti, A. (2018). Determining the numbers of a landscape architect species (Tapirus terrestris), using footprints. PeerJ6, e4591.

Patricia Medici comments on the use of FIT for tapir monitoring:

Lowland tapir footprint (Left hind)

“The development of the Footprint Identification Technique for lowland tapirs has been a fantastic step forward in terms of tapir research and monitoring. I initially used FIT to estimate lowland tapir density in the Atlantic Forests of Morro do Diabo State Park, São Paulo, Brazil, alongside two other methods, radio-telemetry monitoring and line-transects, yielding results that we could compare. FIT resulted in tapir population densities very similar to the ones obtained through radio-telemetry. I am now expanding my tapir research and conservation efforts to the Pantanal biome and will continue to use FIT to estimate tapir populations in this region. In my view, the main benefits of FIT are the fact that it is non-invasive, cost-effective and appropriate for elusive species difficult to monitor in other ways such as tapirs. Additionally, FIT has benefits over other non-invasive techniques in that the sex and age-class of the animal can be ascertained as well as the ID. Last but not least, footprints can also be classified at the species level. For example, in some areas in Colombia where Baird’s and lowland tapir are sympatric we can use FIT to differentiate between them. FIT is a wonderful research tool and I have no doubt whatsoever that this could be the future for wildlife research”.

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