Like most of us after reading that headline, you’re probably saying what in the world is a tapir, and why are they having a meeting? Tapirs are the largest land mammal in South America with females weighing up to 700 pounds! There are four species of tapir in the world, with three of the four species found in Latin America – Baird’s, lowland, and mountain. The fourth species, the Malayan tapir, is found in Southeast Asia. Here at the Houston Zoo, we have a family of Baird’s tapir.
While the tapirs may not have come to town, the specialists from all over the world that work with them did, and we enjoyed every moment of their visit. The symposium was made up of members from the Tapir Specialist Group (TSG) – a team we partner with to help save tapirs in the wild! The TSG is a global group of biologists, zoo professionals, researchers, and advocates dedicated to conserving tapirs and their habitat. The Houston Zoo works closely with this group’s Chair, Patricia Medici, to support a Lowland Tapir Project in Brazil. Every 2-3 years, the TSG will meet, giving these experts the opportunity to share their successes, struggles, thoughts, and ideas in order to work together and plan for the future of tapir conservation. The first part of the conference usually features paper and poster presentations, as well as keynote speakers, while the second part is devoted to workshops and round-tables addressing topics relevant to tapir conservation worldwide. Topics can range from veterinary and genetic issues, to husbandry and captive management, to environmental education and the involvement of local communities. It sounds like a lot of hard work packed into just five days, but don’t worry! Everyone at the symposium had the opportunity to get out and explore the city, and they even made a trip to visit all of us here at the zoo!
This year, we were proud to have our very own hoofed stock keepers John Scaramucci and Mary Fields present for the TSG about the Tapir SOS event we host here on zoo grounds each year. This event gives our zoo guests the opportunity to learn more about tapirs, to connect with field researchers, and learn fun and easy ways to help save these animals in the wild.
Gatherings such as this one have proven to be critical to the success of global conservation efforts. At first glance you may think that projects in Brazil and Malaysia have very little in common, or that field researchers and zookeepers play very different roles. However, when a meeting of the minds occurs, you find out just how much they all have in common, and how vital the exchange of ideas can be to the survival of a species like the tapir. We are honored to be a part of such a collaborative effort, and wish our extended family at the TSG luck as they return to their field sites!
To learn about what you can do to help save tapirs in the wild, click here.