Biggest animal discovery of century: New species of Tapir

Published December 24, 2013
 Species spotlight

[dc]I[/dc]n the open grasslands and forests of the western Amazon, a new species of tapir has been discovered. The mammal is one of the biggest animals on the South American continent, but remains one of the smallest living tapirs. Although new to scientists, the tapir is regularly hunted by the Karitiana tribe and has been known to them for a long time as the “little black tapir”. In 1914 Theodore Roosevelt remarked that a specimen looked distinct from the Brazillian tapir (Tapirus terrestris) but scientists considered it to be a mere variation.

Now, almost 100 years later, the animal has been formally described as a separate species and named Tapirus kabomani, or the Kabomani tapir.The discovery has been described in The Journal of Mammalogy. The Kabomani weighs about 110kg, compared to the 320kg of the Brazillian tapir and has darker hair. It also has a distinctly-shaped scull, shorter legs and a less prominent crest.

Camera trap image of Kabomani tapir. Photo courtesy of Fabrício R. Santos.

Camera trap image of Kabomani tapir. Photo courtesy of Fabrício R. Santos.

The Kabomani tapir is found in the Brazllian states of Rondônia and Amazonas as well as the Colombian department of Amazonas. The lead author, Mario Cuzzuol, explains that “[Indigenous people] traditionally reported seeing what they called ‘a different kind of anta [tapir in Portuguese].’ However, the scientific community has never paid much attention to the fact, stating that it was always the same Tapirus terrestris.” He continues  saying that scientists did not give value to local knowledge and thought the locals were wrong. Knowledge of the local community needs to be taken into account and that’s what we did in our study, which culminated in the discovery of a new species to science.” Cuzzuol is the paleontologist who first started investigating the new species ten years ago.


To me the discovery of this new species of mammal is exciting in more than one way. Not only does it add to the scientific body of knowledge about the living world, but it also illustrates the important role of local knowledge in the quest of conserving biodiversity. I believe WhatSpecies is the ideal platform to bring local knowledge about the living world around us to the fore. So please, go ahead and share your encounters of nature with us. Who knows – you might even discover a new species!

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