The Critically Endangered Colombian Tapir has been rediscovered in the Paujil Nature Reserve after being considered extinct in its Magdalena Valley rainforests of central Colombia. Camera trap photos and fresh tracks of this rare creature from the Paujil Reserve demonstrate that the purchase and active protection of the last remnant of rainforest in the Magdalena Valley can make a real difference to saving species on the edge of extinction.
One of the rarest and least-known large mammals of South America, the Colombian Tapir (Tapirus terrestris columbianus) has lost over 97% of its lowland rainforest habitat and has been almost entirely exterminated by hunting in what little forest survives. For a decade the Tapir was considered extirpated across its core Magdalena Valley rainforest range with only a few individuals known to survive in heavily hunted forests in northernmost Colombia.
After a lapse of over 10 years, one individual has been rediscovered and confirmed by camera traps and tracks from the Paujil Nature Reserve–the last protected block of rainforest in the Magdalena Valley of Central Colombia. Since 2008, Rainforest Trust has supported our Colombian partner, Fundación ProAves, to expand the Paujil Nature Reserve to protect over 8,000 acres of rainforest–the last refuge for many endangered and endemic wildlife. This discovery highlights the urgency to further expand the reserve to restore and protect what little remains of this unique habitat and its incredible wildlife.
Described by Hershkovitz (1954), the Colombian Tapir is restricted to Colombia, originally distributed across lowland rainforest from the Caribbean coast southwards through the Cauca and Magdalena valleys. The Tapirs habitat has almost entirely been lost or severely transformed and what little remains has been heavily hunted. This Critically Endangered species was first photographed in camera traps in 2008 by researchers from UNAM (Universidad Autónoma de México) while follow-up studies located a small surviving population on the northern slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
There have been no further sightings or reports of the species, particularly across its core range in the Magdalena Valley. Historical records of the Tapir were reported by hunters in the area of the ProAves Paujil Nature Reserve, established in 2003 and representing the last intact and sole protected area in the region. After a decade of no records of the tapir in the 8,000-acre reserve, ProAves was concerned that the species had been extirpated from the reserve and the entire Magdalena valley.
On November 7, 2012, visiting birders on an Eagle-Eye Tour led by ProAves guide Trevor Ellery, discovered fresh tracks of the Critically Endangered Colombian Tapir in the Paujil Nature Reserve. The group were birding along one of the main trails in the Reserve when they came across the fresh tracks in a stream bed. The tracks had almost certainly been left overnight, and the group were able to follow them for several hundred meters. Then on November 9, 2012, a camera trap confirmed the presence of this elusive and enigmatic mammal at the Reserve.
After such a long absence, the population of the Colombian Tapir could number in the single digits, but the species has fortunately hung on thanks to the 8,000-acre reserve and daily watch from three full-time ProAves Forest Guardians working to protect the reserve.
This great achievement has been thanks to many supporters, particularly significant land purchases to double the size of the reserve in 2009-2011 by Rainforest Trust and our supporters, American Bird Conservancy, Luanne Lemmer and Eric Veach, and The Rainforest Site. The Forest Guardians have been supported by Healthy Planet, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and Rainforest Trust.