The amazon rain forest, as well as forests in Thailand and Samalya, are under threat.1 Extreme weather conditions caused by climate change have decimated tapir habitat, and their population also dwindles from over hunting and loss of habitat from forest clearing. Losing tapirs is sad if you care about diversity, but it’s not just biodiversity we could be losing–we could also be losing our carbon sinks.
Tapirs only give birth about once every two years to a single calf, making each loss of the population a critical one. If tapirs continue to face losses at their current rate, they will go extinct, and that could mean the continued loss of our carbon sinks—even if all land clearing stopped.
Gardeners of the Rain Forest
Tapirs and other large mammal species such as elephants provide an essential service for forests. They ingest the pits and seeds from the rain forest and excrete them whole in their poop. This service allows the trees and plants of the rain forest to spread farther from where they are planted, and provides a convenient fertilizer source.
Because of this unique capability, tapirs and other large herbivores are sometimes called, “The Gardeners of the Rain Forest,” but what will happen if these large herbivores disappear?
Scientists think even if all other damage to the forest stopped, the loss of these species would mean a loss of as much as 12% of the rain forest’s ability to sink carbon will go with it.2
That’s because without the help of large mammals to spread their seeds, plants and trees will have a more difficult time finding new places to grow.3 Areas close to mature plants have little opportunity for growth. Without these animals, big tree species will disappear, and with them big carbon sinks.
A species under threat
Its hard to estimate the tapir population, but species such as the Malayan tapir may only have as little as 1,300-1,700 left.4 Yet despite their endangered status, tapirs rarely get the attention of other species like gorillas and elephants, because they’re not as well known.
When we think about conservation, it’s important to think of all the animals in an ecosystem. Every animal from insects on up have a role to play in the environment, and extinction has an impact. We need to protect and conserve the habitat of every animal to help keep the planet we know and love in good shape.