貘是一種保護等級為易危或瀕危的哺乳動物。近日科學家在巴西和哥倫比亞的亞馬遜雨林，發現貘科的新物種Tapirus kabomani，理論發表於當期的「哺乳動物學期刊」（Journal of Mammalogy）。
新種是目前已知5個貘物種中，體型最小的一種。Tapirus kabomani重約240磅，身長僅4呎，肩高僅3呎，四肢比所有尚未滅絕和部分已滅絕的貘種短。基因研究也顯示Tapirus kabomani和其他貘種有顯著不同。
雖然這是Tapirus kabomani首次被科學命名，但當地人早已知道牠們的存在。當地居民依賴Tapirus kabomani為食，也賦予牠們傳統文化上的地位。研究作者指出，他們和當地居民都見過Tapirus kabomani在草地上和森林中活動留下的痕跡，不過很少親眼在森林或空地見到牠們。
A new species of tapir, a mammal considered to be endangered or vulnerable, has been identified by scientists in the Amazon rainforest in parts of Brazil and Colombia. It is the smallest of the five known species of living tapirs.
An article in the current issue of the “Journal of Mammalogy” reports on this discovery. Using the largest geographic sample to date of a related species, the authors provide physical and DNA evidence to support their proposal that the tapirs be classified as a new species, Tapirus kabomani.
To determine the uniqueness of T. kabomani, the authors examined skull, tissue, and DNA samples and measurements. Its skull differs in shape and features from those of all other living tapirs.T. kabomani differs from the other tapir species found in its range, having darker hair, a lower mane, and a broader forehead than Tapirus terrestris.
It weighs about 240 pounds, measures just over four feet in length and three feet high at the shoulder, and it has shorter limbs than all other living, and several extinct, tapir species. Genetic studies also showed distinct results for T. kabomani.
Tapirs currently live in Southeast Asia and Central and South America. Historically, these mammals roamed a wide geographic range, but today’s tapir species are isolated from one another and are suffering from overhunting and habitat destruction.
Although this is the first time T. kabomani has been named scientifically, local people have long known of the species’ existence. They rely on the animals for food and give them a place in their cultural traditions.
The authors report that they and locals have seen significant evidence of this species in grassland and forest habitats, but few tapirs have been seen in areas of pure forest or open ground.
They warn that increasing human population, decreasing forested land, and widespread development in the Amazon could affect the new species.
“It is thus urgent,” the authors write, “to determine the conservation status, geographic range, and environmental requirements of this species, to understand how it is affected by human activities.”
American tapir specialist Craig Downer, a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Tapir Specialist Group, and a member of the American Society of Mammalogists, urges that conservation measures to protect the new species be taken at once because it is probably in danger of extinction.
“I recommend that immediate conservation measures be taken to protect this species and its habitat, starting with assessing its current population status, geographical distribution, habitat requirements, and threats to both population and habitat, while increasing on-the-ground protection and public education in order to secure a future for this important species.”
“It is very probable that it is in critical danger of extinction and needs to be so classified by the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Tapir Specialist Group as well as the national governments where it occurs: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and possibly others such as Venezuela and Bolivia,” he said.
Tapirs play a vital role in the ecosystems they inhabit, including intact seed dispersal of many species and building of healthy, humus-rich soils, wrote Downer in a 2001 article in the “Journal of Zoology.”