Comparative sensitivity to environmental variation and human disturbance of Asian tapirs (Tapirus indicus) and other wild ungulates in Thailand


Correspondence: Antony J. Lynam, Global Conservation Program, WCS, Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460, USA. Email:


Southeast Asia's tropical forests suffer the highest rates of deforestation and disturbance of any on Earth, with poorly understood impacts on native fauna. Asian tapirs (Tapirus indicus) are among the least studied of the large mammals in these forests. Using records from 9 camera trap surveys in 7 of the largest (>1000 km2) protected area complexes, we assessed the influence of environmental variation and human-induced disturbance on tapir occurrence. Tapirs were detected at 13% of locations sampled, significantly associated with evergreen forest (P < 0.001). A multiple logistic regression model predicted tapir presence 87% of the time. According to this model, tapir occurrence was positively influenced by annual rainfall and proximity to the forest edge. However, tapirs may not avoid edges but instead prefer wetter evergreen forest, a habitat type that tended to occur further from the forest edge at higher elevations in our particular study sites (P < 0.001). By comparison, 4 other wild ungulate species that share habitats with tapirs showed a range of differing responses. Tapirs are expected to be less sensitive to disturbance because they are not targets for hunting and trade, and are almost entirely active at night, so avoid peak traffic periods in parks. Tapir populations in Thailand may be more stable than in other parts of their global range because rates of forest loss have decreased >40% over the past 20 years. We recommend surveys to fill gaps in the understanding of the status in lesser-known protected areas, research to better understand the fine-scale environmental influences on behavior and habitats of tapirs, and other forest ungulates, and continued legal status for tapirs in the highest category of protection.