New tapir found in South America – largest new animal named so far this century

Finding a new animal is exciting. It speaks well of biodiversity that we still have. Scientists have found a new speicies of tapir, the fifth specices known, that looks different than known ones but has been around for a while.

Scientists make one of the biggest animal discoveries of the century: a new tapir.

In what will likely be considered one of the biggest (literally) zoological discoveries of the Twenty-First Century, scientists today announced they have discovered a new species of tapir in Brazil and Colombia. The new mammal, hidden from science but known to local indigenous tribes, is actually one of the biggest animals on the continent, although it’s still the smallest living tapir. Described in the Journal of Mammology, the scientists have named the new tapir Tapirus kabomani after the name for “tapir” in the local Paumari language: “Arabo kabomani.”

“[Indigenous people] traditionally reported seeing what they called ‘a different kind of anta [tapir in Portuguese].’ However, the scientific community has never paid much attention to the fact, stating that it was always the same Tapirus terrestris,” explains lead author Mario Cozzuol, the paleontologist who first started investigating the new species ten years ago.

Cozzuol first found evidence of the new species a decade ago while looking at tapir skulls, which were markedly different than any other. Researchers then collected genetic material and tapir specimens from local hunters and the Karitiana Indians. Extensive research into both the tapir’s physical appearance (morphology) and its genetics proved that the researchers were indeed dealing with an as-yet-undescribed species of megafauna.

The new species is similar to the Brazilian tapir, but is darker and significantly smaller. This is typical of new finds these days. They vary slightly from known species, just enough to constitute a name of their own.

Photo credit: Mario Cozzul

Photo credit: Mario Cozzuol

Now, Bigfoot and cryptozoology sites are heralding this new animal as a triumph. I’m going to call out their baseless argument. The finding of this tapir is not cryptozoology and like the olinguito, does NOT provide them with any more hope for cryptids to be found. Why? Well, let’s compare. Bigfoot vs tapir. We already know there are tapirs. This is just a variation – an important one but not an animal that people are going to make mystery shows about. Second, this animal was found by scientists using a scientific process. Here is the paper. They sought it, it was found. Cryptozoologists follow myths but never find the mystery animal they seek.

So, as much as Bigfooters tout this as bolstering cryptozoology, that just lends itself to how desperate they are to grab on to any bit of hope after these long decades of not finding the big cryptids they seek. A cool tapir is no Bigfoot.

Why the olinguito is bad news for cryptozoologists

More: A new living species of large mammal: hello, Tapirus kabomani! | Tetrapod Zoology

T. kabomani is known from several specimens obtained by local hunters. The type specimen is a young adult male (represented by both skin and skeleton) and other recently hunted specimens are known as well. Perhaps most remarkable is the fact that a partial skull and skin collected by Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 (and today residing in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History in New York) also belongs to this species (Cozzuol et al. 2013). As so often turns out to be the case, this ‘new’ species has in fact been sitting on a museum shelf for about 100 years. Ah, hindsight.

  13 comments for “New tapir found in South America – largest new animal named so far this century

  1. December 17, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    Can anyone tell me the difference between a ‘Species’ and a ‘sub-species? Surely there must be new sub-species of many animals that are evolving all the time. Some survive and go on to become a new species, others do not. We know that different species can mate but that usually (not always) the offspring are infertile. I presume with sub-species the offspring would be fertile? Are varieties sub-species because they live in a different habitat, are a different colour, are smaller/larger etc.? If so why are humans not divided into ‘separate sub-species’ (since homo sapiens neanderthalensis)?

  2. Massachusetts
    December 17, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    Big footers might argue that there are known apes, so why not an unknown one?

    Also, they frequently argue that science hasn’t gone looking, but rejects their evidence outright instead.

    But the fact that we do find these new species via science suggests that science does work. Sooner rather than later we get good pictures and DNA, which isn’t the case with Bigfoot.

  3. spookyparadigm
    December 17, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    Teddy Roosevelt published a story he was told of a mystery creature in North America, that has since been brought into Bigfoot lore.

    Teddy Roosevelt shot one of these things and that body was used in identifying this species as different from other types of tapirs.

    That dichotomy pretty much sums it up.

    Though honestly, you might want to let the cryptozoo people have this one. ;) While cryptozoo is bad science and has been known to go out of its way to accuse science etc. of malfeasance, it’s probably the least harmful of the alternative beliefs (even with the handful of people who have been injured or killed, it still has a lower body count than ghost hunting or ufology if you include the contactees, and it doesn’t truck for the most part in hypnotically screwing with people’s memories and emotions). While some believers will question what they’ve thought when presented with evidence, as both psychological study and plenty of real world observation can tell you, it isn’t the content that drives people who believe in this stuff as much as it is the style of rejecting mainstream authority. So pushing them out of one place might send them somewhere more problematic.

    I kid. I’m not making the Bigfoot Skeptic argument. I’ve just been recently watching several people, folks who might not be entirely aligned with my interests, harm their own goals with their obsessions, and have stopped myself from suggesting a more effective course of action. If a fool wants to hang themselves, don’t try to get the store to stop selling them rope.

    • Chris Howard
      December 17, 2013 at 9:54 AM

      Ouch! It’s true, but ouch. ;-)

  4. Chris Howard
    December 17, 2013 at 9:52 AM

    Those always looked so prehistoric to me. And HOW COOL IS THAT!!!

    @Michael

    I have an idea what the difference is between a species, and a sub-species is, but I’d rather that someone with a better biology background (no great feat) speak to that.

  5. WMcCreery
    December 17, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    When was the last new primate found?

    • Chris Howard
      December 17, 2013 at 12:39 PM

      I realize this might be pedantic, but living species, or fossilized?

    • spookyparadigm
      December 17, 2013 at 12:59 PM

      There have been a few found recently, though they’re small.

      Then there is the Bili ape, which controversial in that it does spring from local folk taxonomy as more aggressive, and there may be some differences, but most observers believe them to be an isolated group of chimps

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bili_ape

      Note: Observers. When a mystery ape actually does exist, scientists will go and study it. It isn’t impossible, and it isn’t something they won’t do so as to not “upset the status quo”

      Unless they are part of the grand conspiracy to hide the existence of ultradimensional angel forest people bigfoot spirit guides (and to those who openly admit that they think Bigfoot is not a biological creature of this plane of existence and don’t think of it as a “cryptid”, I don’t agree with you but at least we’re on much more agreeable and honest territory).

  6. December 17, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    There is one candidate for a new species of primate in North America: usually large and hairy, spends time in the woods screaming at the moon, hitting trees with baseball bats. Diet contains mostly red meat and beer. You hear it here first.

  7. Anonymous
    December 17, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    This discovery does show how science often dismisses local people in favor of what scientists understand. As stated in the original article, “[Indigenous people] traditionally reported seeing what they called ‘a different kind of anta [tapir in Portuguese].’ However, the scientific community has never paid much attention to the fact, stating that it was always the same Tapirus terrestris,” I can understand how Bigfooters can take offense. Scientists seem to have considered it mistaken identity where there was no mistake at all.

    • December 17, 2013 at 2:20 PM

      It was scientists, not cryptozoologists, who find new species, including this one. So this argument is moot. Regardless, it was eventually found when evidence was located. Bigfoot? Still looking, 50 some years later. In America.

      Most Bigfooters (not all) are untrained in biology and have no idea about research methodology or the history of zoology, taxonomy, evolution, etc. The Bigfoot world is far removed from the academic world and people who actually name new species.

    • spookyparadigm
      December 17, 2013 at 4:25 PM

      I’d argue though that the difference is between “paying attention” and “denying.” I imagine every field scientist has had the experience of being bombarded with lots of “but what about this?” moments, where someone tells them of something that just doesn’t sound right. So, busy with what they’re doing, they shrug it off, maybe politely maybe not. And most of the time, they are right to do so. And sometimes, they aren’t, and they end up missing the find of a lifetime such as this or the coelacanth. And I’m sure if they are still alive, they end up kicking themselves for an opportunity missed.

      But that’s not the case with virtually any of the cryptids.* Anything actually of interest to cryptozoologists _before_ it is discovered is typically something of monstrous size or uncanny nature (Heuvelmanns used this definition himself, more or less IIRC, I looked it up recently in one of his books). Something that if there was any good physical evidence of it,scientists would become interested. Unless they are engaged in a satanic conspiracy to deny the reality of nephilim spirit guide sasquatch, any scientist would go after more evidence of Bigfoot or Nessie or whatever in a heartbeat if shown serious physical proof, or if there was any realistic way of actually seeing one and recording it, instead of it being able to magically make cameras not work (or only work ever on lo-res cameras, preferably before the proliferation of hi-res video).

      That’s exactly what happened here. Yes, scientists didn’t spend their time on this tapir, because it didn’t stand out. Then physical evidence started to appear. Then the stories didn’t look so shrug-off-able. So people started going through museum collections, looking in the literature, and then in the field. And boom, new species.

      Now, back to Bigfoot. There HAVE been several scientists who have, based on eyewitness testimony, folklore, the PGF, and footprint impressions, gone looking in their museums, their literature, and in the field. What came of it? Nothing. Hell, researchers came up with a successful plan to lure and make contact with a giant squid in its natural habitat. And they can’t do the same with a creature seen damn near every day in every state of the union, often not far from population centers, and in an environment that doesn’t require expensive submarines to explore? Really? At that point, you can start to see why I am more sympathetic to the “Bigfoot is an ultraterrestrial angel” people.

      *the giant squid is sort of the exception, as long as we remember that science has recognized it for a century and a half, which is not much less time than the existence of professional science, and long before cryptozoology existed

  8. awebster2001
    December 17, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    http://rosarubicondior.blogspot.com/2012/01/ring-species-evolution-in-progress.html

    Shows the subspecies of the California Salamander. Genetically they are very close, their coloration and size has changed as the species evolved.

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