New Species of Extant Tapir Found in Brazil

A paper published a few months ago in the Journal of Mammalogy announced the discovery of a new species of tapir.  This seems  more like a case of scientific oversight than a discovery.  The local Indians were well aware of the existence of this species and often hunt it for food.  President Teddy Roosevelt bagged one and sent it to the American Museum of Natural History in 1914, but the scientists who examined the specimen wrongly assumed it was a small subspecies of the better known Brazilian lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris).  However, some South American mammalogists looked at specimens provided by Indians and determined the Kabomani tapir (Tapirus kabomani) was a unique species previously unnamed by science.  They used a combination of cladistics (comparative anatomy) and genetics to support their conclusion.

Camera trap caught these Kabomani tapirs kissing.  There are none in captivity and like all other living species of tapir, they are endangered.  The scientific name kabomani is from the local Indian name for the region where they live.

The Kabomani tapir differs from the Brazilian lowland tapir–it has darker hair, a broader forehead, and a smaller overall size.  They reach weights of 240 pounds or roughly half the size of a lowland tapir.  The geographical range of the 2 species overlaps, perhaps explaining the long delay before scientists recognized the difference.  The Kabomani tapir lives in 3 states in Brazil and 1 in Colombia.  They probably live in French Guiana as well because the natives report their presence there.

The Kabomani tapir is thought to be a forest edge species absent from open environments and deep, close-canopied forests.  They eat the leaves and fruits of 3 species of palm, but little else is known about their natural history.

There are now 5 species of tapirs still extant in the world, and all of them are endangered.  They are an heavily hunted animal is areas where they still range.  During the late Pleistocene, the Vero tapir (Tapirus veroensis) ranged all across eastern North America south of the Ice Sheet.  (See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/the-extinct-vero-tapir-tapirus-veroensis/).  Fossils of this extinct large species of tapir have been found as far north as Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Missouri.  Tapir fossils have been excavated from north and south Georgia, and in an Alabama cave, tapir fossils were found in association with caribou and long-nosed peccary.  The Vero tapir was capable of surviving in temperate climates.  Tapirs are known to be important seed dispersers, carrying viable seeds for miles before depositing them in their dung.  The tapir’s absence from North America for the last 10,000 years has undoubtedly impoverished the ecosystem here.

Reference:

Cozzuol, Mario; et. al.

“A New Species of Tapir from the Amazon”

Journal of Mammalogy 94 (6) Dec 2013

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