Paleontology to policy: the Quaternary history of Southeast Asian tapirs (Tapiridae) in relation to large mammal species turnover, with a proposal for conservation of Malayan tapir by reintroduction to Borneo

Authors


Correspondence: Lord Cranbrook, Great Glemham House, Saxmundham IP17 1LP, UK. Email: lordcranbrook@greatglemhamfarms.co.uk

Abstract

The Southeast Asian zoogeographical region is divided into Indochinese, Sundaic and Philippine subregions. Two clades of tapirs, Tapirus spp., have been recognized in Quaternary Southeast Asia. A review of sites at which they occurred shows that representatives of both clades, one of which was the ancestral Malayan tapir Tapirus indicus, co-existed with a diversity of other Pleistocene mammal megafauna. The process of replacement of archaic large mammals was progressive and prolonged through the Quaternary. Zooarcheological investigation has extended knowledge of the former occurrence and distribution of tapirs and other large mammals of the region, with discoveries beyond the outer limits of their previously known ranges. These large mammals were subjected to paleoenvironmental changes as a consequence of the Quaternary cycles of glacial and interglacial periods. Archeological evidence suggests that hunting pressure has intensified the effects of altered environments, leading ultimately to the local disappearance of the Malayan tapir in most of Southeast Asia, including Borneo. The survival of the Malayan tapir through the Quaternary until the present shows that the species is both resilient to environmental change and flexible in its ecological re'uirements and, given proper protection, could continue to inhabit tropical Southeast Asia. To assist the species conservation, reintroduction is proposed from the remaining range of Malayan tapir in the wild, to suitable sites of past occurrence in Borneo, where these ancient survivors of the Quaternary megafauna can be accommodated and safeguarded alongside other forms of land usage.

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