What’s related to horses and rhinos, but still gets little respect? What looks like a watermelon on four hooves as a baby, but as an adult is often confused with a pig? The answer, of course, is tapirs! And seeing as today is World Tapir Day, it seems a fitting time to talk about one of my favorite creatures.
My name is Corinna Bechko. I’m one of the Facebook liaisons for the EFA fan page ( ). My etsy shop is called The Frog Bag ( ) It was opened with the hope of selling my crafts, yes. But I also had another aim. I wanted to do something for the tapirs of the world too. For that reason I give 20% of the purchase price of anything bought in my shop to the Tapir Preservation Fund ( ).
Tapirs are truly amazing animals. They have changed very little since the last Ice Age, when they roamed the widely. Today there are only four species left (three in Central America and one in Asia) and all of them are endangered. Despite the fact that tapirs can be described as “charismatic megafauna” most people don’t even know they exist. Maybe this is because they are shy creatures, not given to territorial displays. They don’t grow huge tusks of ivory, or embody the wild majesty of the great cats.
What they do is perhaps even more important: they preserve and shape the rainforest. With their torpedo-like bodies they crash through the undergrowth, creating new paths and rearranging the flora. As they go, they consume fruit and vegetation. After the fruit is digested the seeds make their way through the tapirs’ guts. These seeds are later “planted” a long way from the parent plant. In this way tapirs enrich the very forests they call home, helping to create some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet.
All well and good, of course. There are many charities that support rainforest conservation. What’s so special about a species specific tapir charity? The short answer is: Science. Very little is known about tapirs in the wild. Far less than what is know about elephants, or even elephant seals. When policy is made concerning how much rainforest to set aside as parkland, the best answer is usually just a guess. How much habitat is needed to support a rich cross-section of flora and fauna? To discover the answer it is often useful to look at some of the bigger members of the community. Protecting enough habitat to support a population of tapirs in turn protects wide swaths of rainforest with many other species riding the same “ark”. That’s why the Tapir Preservation Fund is so unique. It funds not just direct habitat conservation, but also field studies of just what tapirs need to thrive in the wild. Armed with this kind of sound science conservationists can enter debates confidently, secure in the knowledge that they have the facts on their side.
That’s why, in my shop at least, every day is World Tapir Day. Long live the tapir