An unexpected visit

Along the Alto Madre De Dios River, the Crees Foundation is fortunate enough to have its very own Mascoitania Macaw Clay Lick (Collpa) that regularly gets visitors from the Psittacidae family; macaws, parrots, and parakeets. The aim of this survey is to monitor social behaviours and eating patterns of these birds at a clay outcrop with the increased pressure of ecotourism. However, sometimes we get unexpected guests to the area as well.

After a quiet start to the morning, the Collpa team turned away from the clay lick in hope of seeing birds in flight across the river but to their surprise were greeted by a Lowland Tapir swimming through the strong currents towards them. The mammal pushed through the flowing water and up on to the beach the team were monitoring from, only 20 metres away from the group, before trotting back into the river on the other side then disappearing into the undergrowth on the banks of the Alto Madre De Dios river. 

The Lowland Tapir, also known as the South American Tapir (Tapirus terrestris) is the largest native terrestrial mammal species in the Amazon with ancestry dating back over 30 million years. The herbivore, which is most closely related to rhinos and horses, weighs in at approximately 150-250kg as an adult. Despite this, the lowland tapir is still relatively graceful for its size and are known as very strong swimmers. This explains why their preferred habitat is lowland forests, in proximity to wetlands or rivers often, which they regularly jump into to avoid predation.  

Unfortunately, the species is currently listed as Vulnerable (population decreasing) on the IUCN Red list as they are threatened by habitat destruction, hunting (for meat and hide), climate change, and road development. The species is docile and shy, making population estimates difficult to determine. Although approximations say there are around 3000-4500 left in the wild throughout South America, making a sighting such as this a very rare occurrence.

MSc Ian Connolly – Professional Interchange Participant

Daniel Harris – Experiential Learning Volunteer