Tapir Specialist Group History
By Patrícia Medici, Brazil,
In 1980, Dr. Keith Williams from Australia was appointed the founding chairperson of the
Tapir Specialist Group following his work with Tapirus indicus in Malaysia in 1975-1976
and continued input to the Red Data Book over subsequent years. The group commenced work
with five members from Australia, Indonesia, Costa Rica and the USA. There was nobody doing
field research at that time and Williams’ work was the first intensive field study. He was
the first researcher to immobilize radio-collar and track tapirs in the wild. A draft Action
Plan for all the species of tapirs was developed in 1980-1981 and submitted to the IUCN/SSC.
However, it was never developed further as there was little response from the SSC secretariat.
Williams began his fieldwork on Tapirus bairdii in Costa Rica in January 1981 and finished
in February 1983. By that time the TSG had eight members. Prior to that, Daniel Janzen had
done some feeding preference work with a captive tapir in Costa Rica. All other work reported
on tapirs had been from incidental observations.
Williams’s research work in Costa Rica,
funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society (then Wildlife Conservation, NYZS), was the
first extensive study of any tapir species. While he was in Costa Rica, José Fragoso
began work on Tapirus bairdii in Belize, and Craig Downer was developing a proposal for
studying Tapirus pinchaque in Colombia. Downer undertook at least one initial field survey
near Cali, Colombia. A review of the status of tapirs in Indonesia (Sumatra) appeared in
'Tigerpaper' about 1985-1986 written by a team of Indonesians. Other than that some genetic
work was being done about 1982 at the San Diego Zoo. Also, Alan Rabinowitz made observations
of tapirs along with his work on jaguars in Central America (Belize) in the 1980s.
1990, Sharon Matola took over the Chair from Keith Williams. With funding support from
the Wildlife Preservation Trust International, now EcoHealth Alliance, she created the
Tapir Conservation newsletter and it was another step toward professional status of the
group. The first six issues of the newsletter were published working from a manual typewriter
in Sharon’s office at the Belize Zoo. She tried to garner a network of communications,
it was slow going, but grew steadily. In 1991, Sharon began submitting regular contributions
to Species, the official magazine of the IUCN/SSC. The magazine is a valuable forum for
making SSC group known to other members, and Sharon made sure the tapir group was represented
regularly. Under her direction, the Tapir Action Plan was written, and was published
in 1997. Also in 1997, a new officer was added, when Sharon appointed Sheryl Todd as
Deputy Chair and co-editor of the newsletter. Sheryl’s experience with the Internet helped
generate a new level of communication, and in 1998, the Tapir Specialist Group grew in size,
with members in almost every tapir range country. Communication expanded among tapir researchers,
students, and conservationists, and a web site for the group was developed.
By the end
of 1999, the conservation struggle in Belize had escalated, claiming Sharon Matola’s
time. In February 2000, Sharon stepped down from the position and Patrícia Medici from
Brazil agreed to take over as chair.
Contact the Tapir Specialist Group