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.
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.
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.
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.