4-month-old mountain tapir
Furry, 4-month-old mountain tapir eats deep green waxy leaves from a Miconia crocea bush. Has thick reddish-brown fur with white stripes and dots for camouflage. All photos © Craig C. Downer

The Mountain Tapir
Standing about one-meter tall, being nearly two-meters long, & weighing from 200-400 pounds, with woolly black fur except for white fringes around mouth, apex of the ears, & toes, this tapir is a very compelling, dramatic character — the “Al Jolson of the Animal Kingdom”!  Its prehensile trunk, resembling that of an elephant, is key to its evolutionary success, & it can swim rapid torrents, climb incredibly steep mountains, & all but fly!  The least changed of the tapirs, it is sometimes called a living fossil — & tapir-like mammals date to around 60 million years before present!  It is also an important figure in Andean religion.

Andean Tapir Fund
Andean Tapir Fund offers lectures on this endangered species by ecologist Craig C. Downer. These present many stunning, unprecedented color slides & videos taken in Ecuador’s Sangay National Park & other little visited regions of the northern Andes. Downer has undertaken pioneering studies of this herbivorous animal in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. Extending over a decade, he has captured & radio tracked as well as personally observed these secretive, partially nocturnal animals. Learning the foods they eat & which seeds germinate through their feces, he has advanced a theory concerning their mutualistic evolutionary relationship with plants of the mid to high northern Andes. His meticulous observations of the tapir’s ecological relationships with other animal & plant species has provided insights into the unique functioning of the northern Andean ecosystem.

adult mountain tapir
Muscular adult mountain tapir sports white radio-collar on neck. Culebrillas River, Sangay N.P. All photos © Craig C. Downer

Breakthrough seed dispersal & germination of many of the diverse plant species eaten by the mountain tapir have established the important ecological role this benign & mutualistic species plays in the northern Andes (see Journal of Zoology, London, July, 2001 for Downer’s most recent article on this subject).

After nearly a decade of intensive investigation, Downer prepared an action plan (1997) for preserving this species from extinction in the wild for the World Conservation Union, Species Survival Commission, Tapir Specialist Group. This plan involves public education programs coupled with the respectful implementation of alternative, sustainable lifestyles, including the resuscitation of crops such as Quinoa grain (a “complete food”), nutritious blue green algae, sacha machua (Tropaeolum sp.), & Lupine bean.

Adult mountain tapir,
Adult mountain tapir, left profile, has whitish lower jaw and lip fringes. He stands on a steep slope amid tall curving grass fronds and snow-capped Sangay Volcano in background.

Currently Andean Tapir Fund is making great headway in northern Peru where significant gains against illegal poachers and traffickers in mountain tapirs have been accomplished, and substantial public support has been created for the mountain tapirs and their habitat. Most exciting here is the pending creation of a special sanctuary for the mountain tapir in the last cloud forest and paramo redoubts. If Andean Tapir Fund can obtain matching funding of $8,000, this project can go ahead immediately with GPS delineation of the new sanctuary, baseline species inventory, ecological description, and the establishing report and justification before government authorities. Those interested in helping should contact Andean Tapir Fund immediately.

Major mining interests are poised to take over these last mountain tapir cloud forest homes if action does not go forth immediately. Also Andean Tapir Fund needs to continue its work in and around Sangay National Park in Ecuador, where in 2001 and 2002, a major public inquiry, education program, and GPS river survey on 5 major rivers was conducted, already resulting in national publicity and reforms — though much more needs to be done! A proposal for $11,000 has been prepared to bring this project to full fruition. Please contact Andean Tapir Fund to see either the Peruvian or the Ecuadorean proposals and reports. Other projects involve the monitoring of tapirs as indicator species in Ecuador’s “World Heritage” Sangay National Park, a genetic mapping of remnant mountain tapir populations throughout their range, & an implementation of the Action Plan, including an intensive public education program both in the region of Sangay National Park & the Cordillera de Las Lagunillas of northern Peru. Agreements have recently been formed between the Fund & various Peruvian towns. All the northern Andes should eventually be reached.

Fluent in Spanish & English, Downer has given talks, organized/ directed research/ conservation projects, in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia & Venezuela.  His articles, both scientific & popular, guided films, TV/ radio addresses, & presentations  have helped to spark local & international interest/ concern/projects for the future well-being of the mountain tapir & its “living sponge” cloud forest/paramo habitats.

During Downer’s 20+ years of conservation work, he has helped establish & better protect several nature reserves with remnant mountain tapir populations in northern Peru, Ecuador & Colombia.  Downer holds A.B. & M.S. degrees in biology with a specialization in wildlife ecology, particularly herbivorous odd-toed grazers, & is nearing the completion of his doctoral degree on the mountain tapir. He is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists & the World Conservation Union, Species Survival Commission, Tapir Specialist Group. Those desiring more information, interested in arranging a lecture, in taking a guided tour to see the mountain tapirs, in participating in the Fund’s projects, and in contributing to Andean Tapir Fund may contact/send donations by filling out this form.

Andean Tapir Fund – GuideStar Profile