Tapirs are most famous for their fleshy, prehensile nose but that’s not all that’s amazing about them. Tapirs are most closely related to rhinos and horses, but split off to form their own group about 50 million years ago. They were found all over Europe, Asia and North America before largely going extinct. Three surviving species migrated from North America into South America when the two continents collided. Today, only the Asian tapir remains to represent the long gone Old World tapirs.
Asian tapirs are at severe risk to deforestation and the fragmentation of their habitat. The Thailand and Sumatran populations are close to extinction (perhaps only 50-100 left in either location). The population is larger in Malaysia, but everywhere else in Southeast Asia have lost their tapirs forever.
Most tapirs live outside of protected areas, and so the forests are torn down for illegal logging or to make way for palm oil plantations. Tapirs didn’t have to worry much about hunting in the past (Muslims thought they looked too much like pigs and indigenous people believed killing one brought bad luck) but with the continued loss of traditional local game animals, more and more tapirs are winding up poached as a food source.
Conservation required varies wildly depending on the country. Despite their low population in Thailand, nearly all of their range is protected and their future there is positive. In Myanmar and Sumatra things are much less optimistic. Genetic research and a captive breeding program are both underway.
Personally, I’ve always had a fondness for tapirs for two reasons. One, they look like giant shrews in pajamas. I love that. Second, they have a fascinating connection to mythology. Early Japanese explorers in Southeast Asia thought that tapirs resembled the mythological spirit known as the baku. Baku are magical animals that eat nightmares and were said to resemble a cross between an elephant and a lion. I’m not sure why the explorers thought that the tapir would be such a beast, but as a result tapirs became a permanent fixture of Japanese pop culture, appearing in everything from Pokemon to candy packaging.
Today I want to introduce you to one of my favorite amphibians. How can you not love this guy? Come on. He’s like if Jimmy Durante and a purple balloon full of pudding had a kid. The purple frog is a living fossil, the only surviving member of its order. 182 million years ago their ancestors lived in Africa and Antartica when it was all one continent, then they rode India as it separated and drifted into Asia. Older than the Himalayas, outliving the dinosaurs, and yet these amazing, charming creatures are facing extinction at our hands.
Today they are only found in two locations in India, and both locations are rapidly shrinking to make way for coffee, tea, ginger and other plantations. Worse yet, there is no specific conservation underway at the moment.
There is hope though, Edge of Existence is working to increase the ecological study of these creatures, as well as raise awareness among the population. Their range is close to a nature reserve, so extending the borders of the protected land could go a long way. Ecologically safe farming practices exist that could help man coexist with the purple frog (and other species), its just a matter of making people understand why they should.
The numbat, also known as the banded anteater, is a marsupial from Australia that is just barely clinging to survival. Once widespread over southern Australia, it has been wiped out in 99% of its habitat and today is only found in two natural populations.
They are the only marsupial to feed exclusively on termites and can eat as many as 20,000 of the little insects a day with their long, sticky tongues. They are also the only marsupial of their kind left in Australia. Their closest modern relative was the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger.
The biggest threat to the numbat is the deliberate introduction of the red fox by European settlers. Foxes alone wiped out numbats in most of their natural range. Apparently English colonists couldn’t go a week without hunting a fox, and so it was decided to release a batch of the carnivores into an alien ecosystem. Way to go dumb people who died several hundred years ago.
Thankfully, there has been success in breeding programs and today there are six populations of reintroduced numbats in Western Australia. Part of this is due to the success in raising awareness of numbats and making them a mascot for conservation in Western Australia. The charming numbat has its natural adorability to help it out. They seem to take all the best attributes of kangaroos, squirrels and foxes and roll them into one stripey fluffball. However, it is important to remember that even animals not blessed with an anthrocentric ideal of cute need protection.
Miriam Ruiz, one of our live-event artists and the creator of this blog’s lovely header, has offered us another piece combining a classical painting with her animal-of-choice the pygmy sloth. Thanks Miriam!
Most of the money we are raising on June 25th will go to help mammals, amphibians and coral reefs. But Edge of Existence is also setting up programs for birds, and this particular bird has inspired one of our artists. So today I am proud to introduce you to the shoebill.
The shoebill is named for its odd, shoe-shaped bill. It is a stork-like bird found in the swamps of East Africa. Because the swamps it lives in are so remote, it was not known to Western science until the 19th century. However, it was known to the ancient Egyptians and Arabs.
Shoebills grow around 115–150 cm tall. While they look vaguely storkish they are actually the evolutionary link between storks and pelicans. They eat everything from fish, baby crocodiles, ducks and small mammals.
Most of the remaining shoebills today can be found in Sudan. Like many vulnerable species, it is at risk because of loss of habitat and hunting.
This lovely painting comes from Sonya Hallett, one of our contributing artists.
The Chinese Pangolin is in grave danger from poaching. Its blood and scales are harvested for traditional medicine and its meat is considered a delicacy in China. Despite its protected status, it is still actively hunted and its numbers are declining as a result.
Sabine, one of the artists attending our live event on June 25th, has been working on her pachyderms.