A new species of tapir, an endangered animal, has been discovered in the rain forest in parts of Brazil and Colombia, but scientists warn that destruction of its habitat through deforestation and development in the Amazon could threaten its survival.
“It is thus urgent to determine the conservation status, geographic range and environmental requirements of this species, to understand how it is affected by human activities,” the authors wrote in a study published in the Journal of Mammalogy.
More than 400 new species have been discovered in the Amazon rain forest since 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
However, it has been more than 100 years since the discovery of a new species in the order Perissodactyla, which includes tapirs, rhinos and horses.
Local people have long known about the existence of the newly recognized animal, but it had not been named scientifically.
Authors of the study provided physical and DNA evidence to support their theory that the tapir be classified as a separate species called Tapirus kabomani.
The skull of the T. kabomani differs in shape and features from that of any other living tapir. The animal has a different range, darker hair and a broader forehead than its close relative T. terrestris.
The smallest species of tapir, it weighs 240 pounds and measures just over 4 feet long and 3 feet high. It has shorter limbs than any other living, and several extinct, species of tapir.
The first specimen of T. kabomani collected by Western scientists remained unidentified in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City for almost 100 years — with scientists believing it was simply a variation of T. terrestris.
The collector, Theodore Roosevelt, had remarked that the specimen “was a bull, full grown but very much smaller than the animal I had killed. The hunters said that this was a distinct kind.”
Tapirs historically roamed a wide range, living in Southeast Asia and Central and South America, but today’s tapir species have become isolated and have suffered from destruction of their habitat and overhunting.
This species' habitat includes grasslands and forests, and few have been seen in open ground. Scientists speculate that increasing human population, deforestation and widespread development in the Amazon could affect its chances of survival.