New Conservation Assessment of Mountain Tapirs and their Habitat in Colombia
Over a decade ago, our evaluation of the mountain tapir population and its habitat in Colombia revealed that roughly 2,500 tapirs lived within 33,288 km2 of available habitat (Lizcano et al. 2002). Given this, at the time we considered Colombia to be a global priority for the conservation of the world’s remaining endangered mountain tapirs.
Nonetheless, since the early 2000s, little conservation and research have been conducted in much of the highland habitats preferred by mountain tapirs due to on-going paramilitary activity and generally unsafe working conditions. In the midst of this absence of researchers and conservationists, many local farmers and hunters have invaded protected areas, making the current status of the mountain tapirs uncertain in Colombia. Primary threats include the illegal conversion of forests to opium fields in national parks, some conversion of páramo for cattle ranching, the conversion of various highland grassland habitats for the cultivation of potatoes, mining in national parks, and illegal poaching.
Our project has a four-part focus: 1.) Mapping remaining mountain tapir habitat in Colombia, 2.) Evaluating the effects of different threats on Colombian mountain tapirs, 3.) Building our team’s capacity to help develop the future mountain tapir conservation leaders of Colombia, and 4.) Publishing our new distribution map along with key threats and our suggestions for mitigating them on an interactive Colombian mountain tapir website. We use camera-traps to systematically survey large areas of potential mountain tapir habitat and interviews and observational data to collect information on threats.
For modeling, we acquire additional information on potential threats from satellite photos and global climate data. We use species distribution modelling and species occupancy modeling to make science-based updates of mountain tapir distribution, the comparative impact different threats have on the species, and the species’ status in Colombia. Our team will draft reports on these threats that outline strategies that can ensure the survival of Colombia’s mountain tapirs over the long-term. We will create an interactive website in order to ensure the public and wildlife professionals have access to and know how to use our project results and reports
LOS NEVADOS NATIONAL PARK
Risaralda, Quindío, Caldas, and Tolima, Colombia. This national park is located in the Andean mountains of the central cordillera of Colombia. The park consists of both high Andean grasslands and Andean forests and is one of the northernmost points in the central cordillera where mountain tapirs are found.
SUMAPAZ NATIONAL PARK
Cundinamarca, Colombia. This national park includes the largest páramo ecosystem in the world and it is an important biodiversity hotspot. Sumapaz is thought to be a stronghold for mountain tapirs.
PURACE NATIONAL PARK
Cauca, Colombia. This national park is located in the southern portion of the Andean mountains within the central cordillera and is primarily comprised of páramo ecosystem. The park harbors a considerable diversity of flora and fauna and historically had a significant population of mountain tapirs.
Mountain Tapir; Tapirus pinchaque – IUCN Red List 2008: Endangered A2cd+3cd; CITES I (1975)
Tropical high Andean grasslands (páramo and punas) and evergreen montane forests (cloud forest) within the three national parks described above. These ecosystems are vital to mountain tapirs but are also invaluable to the country of Colombia given that they provide important ecosystem services; all are threatened by economic development activities and climate change (Ramirez-Villegas et al. 2014).
Goals and objectives
Our Overreaching Goal
is to understand the current status and advance the conservation of mountain tapirs in Colombia. Achieving the following three objectives will allow us to accomplish this.
OBJECTIVE 1 – SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
Conduct camera-trapping surveys of sufficient scope and scale to determine the current distribution and occupancy dynamics of mountain tapirs in Colombia, and then use resulting maps to derive rough population estimates similar to Lizcano et al. (2002). Build models using camera-trapping data and covariates derived from satellite photos, along with anecdotal information from the field to assess the current threats to mountain tapirs in Colombia.
OBJECTIVE 2 – MOUNTAIN TAPIR THREATS AND CONSERVATION ANALYSIS
Use results from scientific research, from our extensive experience in Colombia, and results from interviews with National Parks Service to design specific strategies to mitigate the threats to mountain tapirs and develop general conservation plans.
OBJECTIVE 3 – DISSEMINATION OF RESULTS AND AWARENESS BUILDING
Build awareness of the status of mountain tapirs in Colombia via an interactive website and social media platforms, thereby ensuring that the National Park Service and the general public in Colombia has access to the information generated by our project, including updated distribution maps and a general plan for ensuring the conservation of mountain tapirs in the country.
Current status of project and achievements so far
OBJECTIVE 1 – CONDUCT RIGOROUS SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH NEEDED TO UPDATE OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE DISTIBUTION AND OF THE STATUS AND THREATS TO MOUNTAIN TAPIRS IN COLOMBIA
In this period, we continued with camera trapping efforts to model mountain tapir occupancy and to estimate density inside protected areas. We completed the first camera trapping sampling season for Ucumari Regional Park and Los Nevados National Park in the Central Andes of Colombia. We have sampled in altitudes from 1500 to 2500 m above sea level. Currently we are considering sampling the portion between 2500 and 3500 m in the next dry season (June–August 2017). We are discussing with Instituto Alexander von Humboldt in Colombia to make our data open access via the Colombian Biodiversity information facility – http://www.sibcolombia.net – and to start a Colombian camera trap data partnership with Antioquia University.
OBJECTIVE 2 – DESIGN SPECIFIC STRATEGIES TO MITIGATE THE THREATS TO MOUNTAIN TAPIRS AND MAKE GENERAL CONSERVATION PLANS.
We have contacted the director of Chingaza National Park to start interviews and surveys with the park rangers and local people on the Eastern Andes. Chingaza National Park is the limit of the mountain tapir distribution and the species occurrence here has been always mentioned but never confirmed. If we are able to confirm the mountain tapir in the park the species will become a conservation priority in this protected area, requiring a conservation plan that will be developed in workshops with the office of the ministry of environment.
Diego J. Lizcano, PhD, Coordinator / Principal Investigator
Jaime Suarez Mejia, MSc Student, Field Coordinator / GIS Expert
Diego J. Lizcano, PhD, Coordinator / Principal Investigator // E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org // Organisation name: Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro Manabi (ULEAM), Ecuador & IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group (TSG) // Organisation full mailing address: Circunvalación, Manta, Ecuador // Telephone: +05-262-0288 // Website: http://www.uleam.edu.ec; http://www.tapirs.org