My infatuation–no, obsession–with tapirs began several years ago on one of my first visits to the San Diego Zoo. There was something enchanting about their prehensile nose, awkward gait, and prehistoric looks. As I did more research I learned even more about this remarkable animal: they love to swim, have watermelon-patterned babies, weren’t discovered by the western world until the late 18th century, have four toes on each front foot and three on each back one. It just seems so unlikely that such a creature could exist, and instantly I was in love.
Shortly afterward the collecting started: a couple dozen stuffed animals, several statues, magnets, antique prints, dozens of stamps, original artwork, magnets, postcards, tobacco cards, books, puzzles, and even used calling cards. Most of this was from eBay, with my favorites being my mini Steiff Tapir and a series of art cards by Amy Weber. (My buying sprees were hindered only by my ebay arch-nemeses rat15 and gogo-tapir.) These have served as excellent decorations for our house, and serve to offset all the okapis that are lurking about.
One of my quests was to see all four species of tapirs in zoos. I’m fortunate that San Diego Zoo has both Baird’s Tapirs and Malayan Tapirs, so those were easy to see. Mountain Tapirs are only in three zoos in North America: Los Angeles Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, and (a recent development) the San Francisco Zoo. For one of my birthdays Amanda adopted a Mountain Tapir for me at the LA Zoo and then took me to see it! It was wonderful and there was even a cute fuzzy baby. (I’ve since also seen the Mountain Tapirs in San Francisco and Colorado Springs.) Seeing a Brazilian Tapir was more difficult, but was accomplished a couple years ago during my trip to New Orleans.
I learned early on that all four species of tapir are endangered, mostly due to habitat loss with some hunting mixed in. Of course I want to save the tapirs for the next generation, so I’ve also done what I could to participate in conservation efforts. I’ve made several purchases at the Tapir Preservation Fund’s Gift Shop, including my latest acquisition, Yanisa the Tapir.
At some point I was looking up adopting tapirs and ran across the Baird’s Tapir Project of Costa Rica run by Charles Foerster. He had a program where you could adopt a tapir for a relatively inexpensive amount (around $200) and then when you visited Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica he would take you to see the animal!
Well, that pretty much sealed the deal. Tracking him down was a whole other project and, to make along story short, I was introduced to Kendra Bauer who is the current project lead. I met her in Costa Rica and she gave some advice on when to see the tapirs: at dawn near the beach. So on a fateful February morning last year we set out on the trail and spotted my first wild tapir: a Baird’s Tapir who we learned later is named Noel.
After talking with Kendra I also ended up volunteering to help build her a website, SaveTapirs.org. This has lots of information about the tapirs and the projects going on in Corcovado Park. It also serves to gather further donations to the project, which are much needed to cover the costs of radio collars, research equipment, and travel.
Where will my love of tapirs take me next? I would really like to see the other three species in the wild, although it may be several years of travelling before I can get to that. (Amanda’s and my list of places to visit is out of control.) I’m continuing to collect tapir items (although there has been a steep drop-off of what’s available on eBay lately), work on the SaveTapirs website, and also support conservation projects through donations. This month I’ve also donated to Club Tapir to support my favorite species: the Mountain Tapir.
So that’s a couple more things off my 101 things list (new stuffed tapir, and a donation) and a long-winded explanation of my love for the animal!