Rumors are often little more than just that, but tales of a pure-white tapir shared among those living in a protected region of Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest were enough to stir National Geographic photographer Luciano Candisani into action. Albinism is extremely rare in the wild since the trait puts individuals at a disadvantage, for example due to poor eyesight and a lack of camouflage, so Candisani was keen to see if the hearsay was true.
The photographer packed up his belongings and headed to a spot where the individual had been reportedly seen, but even though many nocturnal animals paid him a visit—including some generically colored Tapirs—his night shifts proved fruitless. Rather than waiting around each night, Candisani decided to set up a camera trap that automatically snaps any passers-by. And it’s thanks to this that we have now been treated with the first reported photograph of a wild albino Lowland tapir.
“My heart skipped a beat when, while reviewing the photos from one night, the white tapir suddenly appeared in one of the frames,” Candisani told National Geographic.
Tapirs may look like a bizarre cross between an anteater and a pig, but these herbivores are actually close relatives of rhinos and horses. One of the most memorable features of these animals is their fleshy and flexible prehensile trunk, or proboscis, which is formed from the upper lip and nose. This is used to grip branches and strip them of leaves or to pick bits of fruit. There are actually four living, or extant, species of tapir, all of which are nocturnal and crepuscular (active during twilight), except for the Mountain tapir that is active during the day.
The Lowland, or Brazlian, tapir (Tapirus terrestris) photographed by Candisani is found across a wide range of rainforest and wetland habitats in South America. These solitary and shy animals are generally quite rare, but can be locally common in some areas. They usually sport a dark brown, bristly coat with a stiff mane that runs from forehead to shoulder, but newborns are decorated with white spots and stripes.
Tapirs are critical to forest ecosystems as their droppings help disperse seeds, but unfortunately Lowland tapir populations are dwindling in the face of habitat loss, illegal hunting and competition with domestic livestock. Not only are these animals considered a prize game mammal for those of South America, but their hides are also used to make shoes for souvenirs. These factors, combined with chemicals used to deter cocaine growers that inevitably find their way into the food chain, have all contributed to their decline. Over the past 33 years, their populations have been reduced by more than 30%, which led to them being listed as a vulnerable species under the IUCN Red List.
[Via National Geographic]