World Tapir Day: What Happens When Dogs Meet Tapirs?

World Tapir Day: What Happens When Dogs Meet Tapirs?

Camera trap photo of a tapir and a domestic dog in southern Mexico.

Fernando M. Contreras Moreno

Researchers have documented conflict between between a tapir and a dog in Mexico, highlighting the impact of encroaching human settlement on this living fossil species.

Tapirs are a living fossil, having survived about 30 million years, but three of the four species of tapirs (three in the Americas and one in south-east Asia), are listed as endangered.

In images captured by researchers via camera traps and published in a 2024 study, a Central American Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) is seen charging at a domestic dog.

Fernando Contreras-Moreno, a Mexican biologist with a PhD in Ecology, first author of the study and currently a field officer for WWF Mexico in southeastern Mexico, says that Mexico’s new “Tren Maya” tourist rail line expected to increase the population of Calakmul by 500%, which will demand more resources, spaces, and it is likely that the number of pets and domestic animals will increase.

“Tapirs depend on natural watering places, these small ponds are shared with people, and obviously by domestic animals, so the competition will increase and it is very likely that tapirs will be the ones to die in the process,” he says.

This may be an emerging trend: another 2024 paper from Colombia documented a mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) being chased and attacked by two dogs in a protected area of the Central Andes of Colombia.

Contreras says as human settlement moves closer to tapir habitat, sterilization and vaccination campaigns for pets and livestock would be necessary to reduce the population of feral dogs, cats and pigs, to prevent transmission of diseases between species.

Tapirus bairdii in southern Mexico.

Fernando M. Contreras Moreno

Importance of World Tapir Day

Contreras was born and raised in the southeastern state of Tabasco, Mexico.

“I grew up in a small town where there are still jungles and that marked me to later dedicate myself to the study of animals,” he says, “I have spent a lot of time seeing animals in the jungle, and I am more and more convinced that it is more necessary that we intervene to stop all the effects that are occurring in different natural areas.”

Contreras explained that he has now spent 20 years dedicated to the study of the ecology of medium and large mammals in tropical ecosystems, particularly studying wildlife in protected natural areas.

“I believe that tropical ecosystems are among the least studied environments, ironically they are sites with high biodiversity, which is currently very threatened by climate change, so we must look there,” he says, adding that as wild populations and human-dominated ones mix, there is an increased likelihood of new diseases emerging.

Brazilian Tapir researcher Lais Lautenschlager Rodrigues explains that World Tapir Day (celebrated each year on 27 April since 2008) has been important in raising tapir awareness because although they are the largest terrestrial mammals living in South America and Asia, weighing almost 500 pounds, only a few people know about this animal.

“Tapirs play key ecological functions in controlling vegetation, also consuming a variety of fruits, and dispersing seeds of various sizes,” she says, “Their dung piles, called ‘latrines,’ are also sources of nutrients and food resources for other species.

Lautenschlager Rodrigues says many anthropogenic causes are affecting the persistence of tapirs in their natural habitats, accelerating their extinction risks.

“Losing them, we might also lose their importance as the extant large mammalian herbivores present in the Neotropical realm, their functions as excellent seed dispersers, and many species interactions,” she says.

Central American tapir (Tapirus bairdii; Tapiridae, Perissodactyla), the largest terrestrial mammal … [+] in the Mexican neotropics.

Fernando M. Contreras Moreno

Reviving Mexico’s Once-Extinct Wolves

Another effort to conserve a large mammal in Mexico was undertaken by conservation biologist Ximena Neri Barrios.

Barrios, who is currently a ESG risk manager at Mifel Banking in Mexico, says trapping and hunting of the Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) had nearly wiped them out in the wild around 50 years ago.

In the late 1970s, four male wolves and one fertile female were captured in Mexico and it is now estimated there’s over 180 wolves in the wild across Mexico and the southern US.

“Back when wolves were wild in Mexico, there was no study of them, just efforts to eradicate them,” she says, adding that conflicts with ranchers has brought about the decline of not just the wolves but several large predator species like bears, jaguars and other big cats.

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