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MOUNTAIN TAPIRS
IN ECUADOR

A Photo Narrative by
Craig C. Downer



The Rio Pastaza drains the northern end of Sangay National Park. Eventually, it empties onto the Amazonian plain, there to deposit sedimentation in huge volumes. This load of sediment is due to the rampant deforestation and consequent erosion of the Andes. The true life-sustaining wealth of the Andes is here graphically illustrated being scoured away from the highlands.


Capture of "Sambita," a female mountain tapir, age 3 years, on December 2, 1989, in west Puruhaes Francesco Mesa. Culebrillas River, Sangay National Park, about 3,300 meters elevation.




"Lithosols" are prevalent in the high Andes, i.e. soils that are shallow and underlain by bedrock. Hence any colorization (deforesting, buring, cultivation or livestock grazing) quickly causes the soils to be scoured away and the bedrock to be exposed. This is an area of natural slide in the Purshi Sector of Sangay National Park, about 3,500 meters elevation, an area currently jeopardized.

Large adult mountain tapir tracks in ashy volcanic soil.


This picture shows Ecuador's national parks and reserves. The red area in the middle is Sangay National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Devastation of upper the Purshi area caused by Guamote-Macas road construction, late March, 1995.


A torrent duck (Merganetta armata) female and young, at Step Cascade, Culebrillas Sector, Sangay National Park.

Young adult male (?) mountain tapir on a run along its trail. Tapirs may even gallop, being relatives of the horse. La Playa Sector, Sangay National Park, December, 1991, about 3,500 meters elevation.

Panoramic shot showing typical habitat of the mountain tapir and "umbrella" plants (Gunnera brephogea) clinging to steep slopes. The place is a living sponge, of vital worth for provision of pure water and moderation of waterflow.


"Esperanza," a female mountain tapir at about nine months of age. This was taken at Pasochoa Reserve, Ecuador. With her is Carlos Rundo, herbalist and conservationist - an intelligent and articulate Ecuadorean who bitterly opposed Esperanza's ever having been removed from Sangay National Park, as I did myself. I had prepared a reintroduction plan for releasing Esperanza back into her native region.

Slide area on the western edge of Sangay National Park, El Encantado area, about 3,700 meters elevation. This area has been heavily invaded by livestock, and massive slumping is starting to denude rich volcanic soils and expose bedrock. The problems here are caused mainly by cattle, both from a private hacienda and from local communal (indigenous) cooperatives. Most of the mountain leading up from Rio Bamba to the park has been devastated by the practice of grazing cattle in these delicate watershed areas.

Hooves and snout of a mountain tapir are offered for sale as folk medicine for epilepsy and heart ailments in Sullana Piura, Peru. It is illegal to harm or kill any mountain tapir or sell its parts in Peru, Ecuador and Columbia, but enforcement of the law is rare.

Prunus serotina - one of the highland plants which the mountain tapir seeds through its feces. One fourth of the flowering plants in this study area were seeded by the mountain tapir. Thus, the mountain tapir is a vital keystone species for the high Andes of northern South America.

Puruhaes Indian children in Alao, gateway community to west Sangay National Park. Conservation education programs are being given to these children - and their parents - to inculcate respect for Sangay National Park, the mountain tapirs, and other rare animals and plants that find one of their few remaining homes in Sangay.

Collaring of "Gloria," a two-yearold female mountain tapir, in July of 1990, Culebrillas, Sangay National Park. Collaring the tapir is park ranger Bernardo Huisha. Gloria was "poached" within one half year. [Ed note from a conversation with the author: The light colored collars do not appear to make the tapir easier prey for hunters; they become muddy almost immediately and are less easy to spot. In addition, most hunting is done the traditional way - with dogs, lassoes and machetes rather than with rifles. It can sometimes take a whole day for hunters and their dogs to bring down a mountain tapir.]


Young adult male mountain tapir at about 3,600 meters elevation in La Playa Sector, Sangay National Park. The ravines are very ashy here at base of Sangay volcano. Poaching occurs in this area with some frequency, but cattle have not yet invaded. December 4, 1991.


Esperanza at the age of four months at Armando Castellano's place in Quito. She was being bottle nursed with cows' milk at this time. She almost died between her capture at two months and the time of this photo. Antibiotics were causing digestive collapse.

Esperanza, later at Pasochoa Reserve, about nine months of age. She died of rabies at this reserve at a little over two years of age, having been bitten by a rabid cat. I had planned to release her to Sangay National Park.

Sample Tour to Sangay National Park - Join us

Proposal for Culmination of Mountain Tapir, Andean Forest and Paramo Protection Project in Northern Peru


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