The Tapir is one of the largest land mammals found in the tropics, and is a close relative to both the hippopotamus and horse. In Belize, the tapir is referred to as a “mountain cow” and is regarded as the country’s national mammal. Baird’s Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) is the species found in Belize and it’s currently endangered. In fact, all four species of tapirs found worldwide are either listed as threatened or endangered.
Because of it’s immense size, they have few predators. Even jaguars have difficulty preying on all but young tapirs because of their thick hides. Their actual main threat is increased deforestation activity both in Belize and abroad. Also, gestation takes over 1 year, so natural re-population has been slower than the rate of habitat loss.
It is extremely rare to see a tapir in the wild because of their small numbers, their propensity to live alone except when rearing, and being primarily nocturnal. If you are lucky enough to see one it will likely be along the river’s edge eating a herbivorous diet. For a guaranteed photo, check out the Belize Zoo, where a successful breeding program attempts to reintroduce young Tapirs back into the wild.
Lower Dover Field Station is lucky enough to be in close proximity to the 6000+ acre Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, 4 miles up Barton Creek from the jungle lodge. The protected jungle around Lower Dover along the Belize River provides a vital habitat corridor for the tapirs to move freely from the river to the reserve along both Big & Little Barton Creek.
One day, Bill a.k.a. the bushman, owner of Lower Dover, was walking the birdwatching trail when he came across this tapir cooling off in Little Barton Creek. The tapir did not take kindly to the dogs presence and showed its displeasure by stomping its front feet on the creek bank. Not believing his eyes and missing his camera, Bill sprinted back to the lodge 200 yards away. Grasping for air, Bill resorted to riding his mountain bike back to get these photos. From this encounter forward, he vowed to never leave his camera behind when walking the nature trails at Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge, or risk heart failure seeking a National Geographic worthy photo.