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Atlantic Forest tapir at risk of complete extinction, scientists say

South American tapir Ivana walks with her newly born son at their enclosure at the Zoo in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, May 28, 2015. The yet to be named male baby tapir was born on Tuesday, May 19, 2015.  (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Story at a glance

  • A species of tapir living in South America is at risk of almost complete extinction, scientists warn.
  • Researchers have found the biggest threat to the animals is population isolation caused by construction and major highways.
  • Researchers hope that wildlife bridges will help the isolated populations reach one another more easily.

Lowland tapirs living in South America’s Atlantic Forest are at risk of complete extinction, scientists say.  

The animal, most easily identifiable by its short, prehensile nose trunk, can only be found in 1.78 percent of the species’ original range in the Atlantic Forest, which covers parts of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, according to a recently published study in Neotropical Biology and Conservation.  

Researchers say the biggest threat to the tapir is population isolation, as hunting and highways keep groups of the animals away from each other. Drastic action should be taken immediately to connect isolated groups of tapirs to ensure the species’ survival in the area, the authors of the study warn.  


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“Of the 48 tapir populations identified during the study, between 31.3% and 68.8% are demographically unviable (low number of individuals), and between 70.8% and 93.8% of the populations are genetically unviable (low gene flow),” said one of the lead researchers of the study Dr. Kevin Flesher of the Biodiversity Study Center at the Michelin Ecological Reserve in the Brazilian state of Bahia.  

The Brazilian states of São Paulo and Paraná have the largest number of remaining populations of tapir, but the largest individual populations live in Misiones, Argentina and in the Iguaçu and Turvo reserves in Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul.   

In the study, researchers noted that there did not appear to be movement between these populations but that it was distance keeping the animals apart.  

“The central problem is the multiple threats they face while crossing the habitat,” said Flesher. Instead, construction, specifically the construction of highways, around tapirs natural habitat is preventing the animals from growing.  

“Roadkill is a significant cause of death in six of the eight reservations in which highways cross tapir populations, and the expansion of the roadway grid in the country threatens to cause population fragmentation in at least four populations,” said Flesher, adding that finding ways to allow the animals to safely cross highways is an “urgent conservation priority”.  

 


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