Lawrence, Kansas (PRWEB) December 23, 2013
A new species of tapir, an animal considered worldwide to be endangered or vulnerable, has recently been discovered by scientists in the Amazon rain forest in parts of Brazil and Colombia. It is the first tapir discovery since 1865 and the first time in 100 years that a new species has been found in the order Perissodactyla which includes tapirs, rhinos, and horses.
An article in the current issue of the Journal of Mammalogy reports on this discovery. Using the largest geographic sample to date of a related species, the authors provide physical and DNA evidence to support their proposal that the tapirs be classified as a new species, Tapirus kabomani.
To determine the uniqueness of T. kabomani, the authors examined skull, tissue, and DNA samples and measurements. Its skull differs in shape and features from those of all other living tapirs. T. kabomani differs from the other tapir species found in its range, having darker hair, a lower mane, and a broader forehead than Tapirus terrestris. It is the smallest living tapir, weighing about 240 pounds. It measures just over 4 feet in length and 3 feet high at the shoulder, and it has shorter limbs than all other living, and several extinct, tapir species. Genetic studies also showed distinct results for T. kabomani.
It is interesting that the first known specimen collected for this species of tapir remained unidentified for almost 100 years. The collector (Theodore Roosevelt) remarked that this specimen “…was a bull, full grown but very much smaller than the animal I had killed. The hunters said that this was a distinct kind.” (Roosevelt 1914:76). Roosevelt sent the specimen to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City for analysis, but it was considered just a variation of T. terrestris (Allen 1914).
Tapirs currently live in Southeast Asia and Central and South America. Historically, these mammals roamed a wide geographic range, but today’s tapir species are isolated from one another and are suffering from overhunting and habitat destruction. The discovery of T. kabomani means that there are now five known living species of tapirs. Although this is the first time T. kabomani has been named scientifically, local people have long known of the species’ existence. They rely on the animals for food and give them a place in their cultural traditions.
The authors report that they and locals have seen significant evidence of this species in habitats typified by grasslands and forests. However, few tapirs have been seen in areas of pure forest or open ground. They speculate that increasing human population, decreasing forested land, and widespread development in the Amazon could affect the new species. “It is thus urgent,” the authors write, “to determine the conservation status, geographic range, and environmental requirements of this species, to understand how it is affected by human activities.”
Full text of the article “A new species of tapir from the Amazon,” Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 94, No. 6, 2013, is now available.
About the Journal of Mammalogy
The Journal of Mammalogy, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mammalogists, is produced six times per year. A highly respected scientific journal, it details the latest research in the science of mammalogy and was recently named one of the top 100 most influential journals of biology and medicine in the last century by the Special Libraries Association. For more information, visit http://www.mammalogy.org/.