MASAYA, Nicaragua – “Maya” and “Carburito,” two tapirs born in captivity in the Nicaraguan National Zoo, eat fruits in their pen, but in a few months these endangered animals will be set free in the forest as part of a plan to promote their breeding.
“We are going to set them free in order to breed them and to follow their geographic distribution and adaptation, if they can survive or not,” Eduardo Sacasa, a chief veterinarian at the National Zoo, told AFP.
The young tapirs, born two years ago in a zoo located in Masaya, south of Managua, will be tracked thanks to collars that are connected with a satellite telemetry system.
“The tapir is the most fragile animal there is right now in Nicaragua, and in the world, due to their long reproductive process – a 400-day pregnancy,” Sacasa said.
They are becoming extinct due to hunting and the destruction of the forest, among other threats, he added.
Early next year, Maya and Carburito will be transported in a military helicopter to the wildlife refuge Kahka Creek. The 650-hectare refuge is situated within the large Wawashang forest reserve in the autonomous region of the Southern Atlantic in Nicaragua.
Sacasa said he chose the remote place “because there are many farmers willing to collaborate” with the zoo’s initiative, which began four years ago with the objective of saving the tapirs of Nicaragua. He estimated that the population of tapirs dropped in recent years from 2,000 to 500.
“Also we’re going to capture tapirs from the wild [from the reserve] in order to put collars on them,” he said.
Gardeners of the forest
The National Zoo is spearheading the project with the support of a U.S. specialist from Michigan State University, Christopher Jordan, who assisted with materials and dissemination.
The plan is supported by the Environment Ministry, the military’s Ecological Battalion, the police, and the nongovernmental Foundation for the Autonomy and Development of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, among others.
As part of the initiative, 65 cameras have been installed around Wawashang and other reserves in the Caribbean, which permit observing not only the tapirs, but also other species such as giant anteaters that were believed to be extinct, Sacasa noted.
Tapirs are odd-footed ungulate mammals that can grow as large as two meters, can weigh 300 kilograms and can live up to 18 years. With a nose in the form of a small trunk, they are characterized by having strong hoofs, similar to those of a horse or rhinoceros.
These docile animals are known also as “gardeners of the forest,” due to their contribution in seed dispersal of plants, bushes and trees.
In order to be able to free Maya and Carburito, the zoo needs to approach the refuge with mesh nets – a job that costs some $10,000. Workers hope to collect that amount with a campaign that starts this week on social media.
In Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica, tapirs go by the name danta, and their threat of extinction is attributed to hunting for human consumption, the president of Amarte, a foundation to protect animals, Enrique Rimbaud, told AFP.
According to Rimbaud, on the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast, where an autonomous regime is in charge, authorities permit locals to hunt a maximum of four dantas per year, making the survival of these animals difficult.