baird's tapir

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Gardeners of the Forest

The Baird’s Tapir is one of the world’s four tapir species, or “Ngarbing” as they are called in the Indigenous Rama language. It lives in Central America and parts of northwest South America. These tapirs, which can grow up to 5 feet long and weigh up to 550 pounds, are critically important to keeping forests healthy. As they range through forests eating more than 200 species of fruits and plants, they disperse seeds through their scat, helping forests regenerate. Their important role in keeping forests healthy has earned them the nickname, “gardeners of the forest.”

Though Baird’s Tapirs play an outsized role in keeping the forests of Central America and parts of South America healthy, they are Endangered. Scientists estimate there are about 4,500 mature adults living in the wild. If Baird’s Tapirs go extinct, other species will feel the effects. The wild almond tree, known as Dipteryx panamensis, depends on large mammals like tapirs to disperse their seeds. These trees have some of the largest seeds in the forests; they are slow-growing trees with dense wood, which means they also store the most carbon. Without Baird’s Tapirs there would be fewer wild almond trees and less carbon locked in the forest grounds of Central and northwest South America. On top of this, these Dipteryx trees are the preferred nesting trees and a critical part of the diet of the endangered Great Green macaw. Without tapirs this globally endangered bird would struggle to find food and raise chicks.

Members of the Baird's Tapir Survival Alliance (BTSA). (Chris Jordan/Global Wildlife Conservation)

Re:wild, the Houston Zoo, IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s International Affairs Program, Costa Rica Wildlife Foundation, Universidad de las Regiones Autónomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaragüense, la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras, and other local partners have banded together to protect Baird’s Tapirs and ensure the forests they live in remain resilient in the face of human-induced climate change. 

Together, these partners make up the Baird’s Tapir Survival Alliance (BTSA). The Alliance is working in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama to reduce and eliminate the biggest threats to the species: 

  • Unsustainable hunting 

  • Poaching

  • Retaliatory killings of tapirs in reaction to crop-raiding

  • Roads built in tapir habitats 

  • Climate change

A Baird's Tapir. (Chris Jordan/Global Wildlife Conservation)

BTSA tailors programs to help specific areas where its partners work, while collectively helping achieve larger conservation goals across Central America. The Alliance encourages its partners to work together across countries and share experience, skills, and resources. 

BTSA coordinates and collaborates with guardians – local, regional and national – who can ensure tapirs are protected while also rewilding the forests where they live. 

For example, in the Tenorio-Miravalles region of Costa Rica, in response to retaliatory tapir killings, Tapir-Friendly Families (Amigos de la Danta) was created as an economic alternative for local farmers impacted by crop raiding. The farmers offer guided tours on their land, teaching tourists about tapirs, following their tracks, and (with a little bit of luck!), spotting tapirs in the wild. With our partners at Costa Rica Wildlife Foundation, Re:wild is helping evaluate this tapir tourism case study to determine its effectiveness, and continue to explore conflict mitigation techniques like this across Central America.

Wild Facts

  • About 4,500 Baird’s Tapirs live in the wild across Central America and northwest South America.

  • Baird’s Tapirs eat more than 200 species of plants and fruit.

  • Baird’s Tapirs are critical to dispersing the seeds of a slow-growing wild almond tree that has dense wood, which means it stores the most carbon.

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Solutions

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the interrelated crises of wildlife extinctions, climate change and pandemics. Re:wild works with local and Indigenous communities, conservation partners, governments and others to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. Our Baird's Tapir conservation approaches include any combination of the following solutions:

protected area management

Improving the way protected and conserved areas are managed—involving communities, Indigenous peoples, sociology, economics, business management, and wildlife crime prevention—to ensure a safer future for biodiversity and local communities.

wildlife crime prevention

Developing community-led and owned prevention strategies that take into account the societal and cultural drivers of wildlife crime, and implementing systems and technology to stop poachers before a crime is even committed.

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Partnering with Indigenous Peoples

Incorporating Indigenous knowledge, practices and values to support Indigenous peoples in protecting and managing their lands and natural resources.

Cultivating Conservation Leaders

Partnering with the next generation, passionate leaders, communities and organizations all over the world to ensure they have the enabling conditions, resources and expertise they need to most effectively protect and manage wildlife and wildlands.

The plan

Protect Baird’s Tapirs by ensuring the forests they live in remain resilient in the face of human-induced climate change and eliminate the biggest threats to the species.

Population

4,500

IUCN Red List Category

Endangered

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