The Proyecto Danta/Baird's Tapir Project was established in 1994 to study the basic ecology (home
range, habitat use, activity patterns etc.) of the Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii) in Corcovado National Park, Costa
Rica. At that time, the veterinary involvement was limited to safely immobilizing tapirs for the purpose of fitting them
with radiocollars. In 1996, the study was amplified to include more long-term ecologic objectives, such as evaluation of
reproductive success, mortality, disease, juvenile dispersal and genetics. As a result, veterinary medicine has become an
integral component of all aspects of the study.
The overall goal of the Proyecto Danta/Baird's Tapir Project is to provide accurate data on tapir
ecology and health for the development of effective conservation and management strategies for the species and its habitat
in Central America. Specific veterinary objectives of the study include: 1) development of safe immobilization protocols for
attachment of radio telemetry collars, 2) documentation of normal health parameters of this population, 3) identification of
disease incidence and exposure of the study population, 4) elucidation of reproductive patterns in this population, and 5)
determination of genetic relationships between individuals.
Tapirs were immobilized using a drug combination of butorphanol/xylazine/ketamine (Torbugesic®,
Fort Dodge, Ft. Dodge, IA 50501 USA; Rompun®, Bayer, Shawnee Mission, KS 66201 USA; and Ketaset®, Fort Dodge, Ft.
Dodge, IA 50501 USA) or butorphanol/xylazine/propofol4 (Rapinovet®, Schering-Plough Animal Health Corp.,
Union, NJ 07083 USA). Butorphanol and xylazine were administered together in an initial dart at 40-50 mg/animal and 100
mg/animal respectively. First effects were noted at 4 min. Sternal recumbency was achieved in 12 min. Either ketamine or
propofol were used to extend immobilizations beyond 40 min. When administered, ketamine was given intravenously in 25-50 mg
boluses. When propofol was used instead of ketamine, it was given as a constant rate infusion of 10 mg/min for as long as it
was necessary to maintain the animal immobilized. Both ketamine and propofol were discontinued at least 15 min prior to
antagonism of the induction drugs. The induction drugs were reversed with 50 mg of naltrexone and 1200 mg of tolazoline i.m.
During 34 immobilizations of 19 individuals morphometric measurements, body weights (when possible),
dental impressions, blood, skin, ectoparasites, fecal samples, and genitourinary swabs have been obtained. Ultrasonographic
reproductive evaluation of female tapirs was conducted using a portable ultrasound unit (Aloka 500V, Aloka Inc., 10
Fairfield Blvd., Wallingford, CT 06492 USA) when feasible.9 We focused our disease investigation and serologic
surveys with consideration of two primary factors: 1) the relatively recent presence of livestock species in Corcovado,
particularly Equidae, and 2) the types of diseases previously documented in captive tapirs.7
Dental impressions have been obtained in order to evaluate this technique as a method for age
determination. Blood was analyzed to establish a baseline of complete blood cell counts and serum biochemistry panels. The
results of the complete blood cell counts and biochemical analysis have been grouped and compared to the current ISIS
normals for the Baird's tapir. Serologic screening for the common diseases affecting horses in Costa Rica was performed.
These included equine infectious anemia, equine herpes virus types 1 and 4, vesicular stomatitis, equine influenza and
Eastern, Western and Venezuelan equine encephalitis. Skin biopsies were utilized for DNA analysis as well as to investigate
the presence of the vesicular dermatitis found in captive tapirs. Ectoparasites were collected and identified. Feces was
collected and analyzed for the presence of endoparasites, and frozen for later evaluation of reproductive hormones to
facilitate correlation with ultrasound data. Genitourinary cultures were obtained to identify common bacterial flora.
Ultrasound examination of females was utilized for pregnancy determination in conjunction with a hormonal assay and ecologic
The Baird's tapir is the largest land mammal in the neotropics, and as such represents an effective seed
disperser and a potentially important indicator species of the health of tropical rainforests.1-3,8 Once common
throughout Central America, the Baird's tapir is now extinct in El Salvador and endangered throughout the rest of its
range.5,6 Despite the current challenges facing tapir conservation, few studies have been conducted to describe
tapir natural history or its disease epidemiology. The mission of the Proyecto Danta/Baird's Tapir Project is to combine the
expertise of wildlife managers, biologists and scientists from various disciplines to help answer the urgent need for basic
but paramount information about tapir biology and ecology. Such knowledge is fundamental to effective long-range
conservation planning for the Baird's tapir and its fragile tropical environment.
The authors would like to acknowledge that this work was supported with funds provided by the
Zoological Society of San Diego, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Lincoln Park Zoo's Scott Neotropic Fund, and the
World Wildlife Fund for Nature. The authors would also like to acknowledge all those veterinarians and scientists that have
contributed to the information presented here: Dr. Roberto Aguilar, Dr. Danilo Leandro Loria, Dr. Don Janssen, Dr. Sandra
Allan, Dr. Mary Ashley, Dr. Jim Norton, Dr. Amy Glaser and the Department of Clinical Pathology at Cornell University.
1. Bodmer RE. 1990. Fruit patch size and frugivory in the lowland tapir (Tapirus
bairdii). J. Zool. (Lond.) 222-128.
2. Dirzo R, A Miranda. 1990. Altered patterns of herbivory and diversity in the forest
understory. A case study of the possible consequences of contemporary defaunation. Pp. 273-287 In: Price, P. W., T. M.
Lewinson, G. W. Fernandes and W. W. Bensen, eds. Plant-animal interactions: Evolutionary ecology in tropical and
temperate regions. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
3. Emmons L, F Feer. 1990. Neotropical rainforest mammals. The University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, Illinois. 281 pp.
4. Foerster SH, J Bailey, R Aguilar, D Loria, C Foerster. 2000. Butorphanol/xylazine/ketamine
immobilization of free-ranging Baird's Tapirs in Costa Rica. J. Wildl. Dis. In press.
5. IUCN. 1982. The IUCN mammal red data book, part 1. International Union for
Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Gland, Switzerland. 228 pp.
6. IUCN. 1990. IUCN red list of threatened mammals. International Union for
Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Gland, Switzerland.
7. Janssen DL, B Rideout, M Edwards. 1999. Tapir Medicine. In: Fowler, M.E. and R.E. Miller.
Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine: Current Therapy 4. W. B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pp. 562-568.
8. Janzen DH. 1982. Seeds in tapir dung in Santa Rosa National Park, Costa Rica.
9. Radcliffe RW, MP Bommarito, SA Osofsky. 1996. Ultrasonography as a tool in the conservation
of the African rhinoceros: ex situ and in situ applications. Pachyderm 21: 55-59.