A main theme of our sustainability project is the effect of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity. Studies show about 30% of tropical biodiversity is unable to be conserved through realizable national parks systems. Much of this biodiversity consists of smaller plants and animals that do not need large areas of habitat for their survival, and models show this biodiversity can often be conserved in patches of habitat within environmentally developed landscapes.

Our project for Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii; see species profile) supports this species sustainable management in a developing landscape. This project will support the sustainable management of Baird’s tapir through; 1) providing information to support the regional conservation of Baird’s tapir, 2) informing biodiversity conservation within a fragmented but sustainable environment, 3) providing Internet based information and training on Baird’s tapir and biodiversity conservation, and 4) and developing community based eco-tourism based on biodiversity conservation and Baird’s tapir.

 Bairds tapir  Baird's tapir Tapirus bairdii and juvenile.

Semi-deciduous rainforest is the most threatened forest type in Central America, and is only found in a small and increasingly cleared area in the Sartenejan Region and on the largely cleared Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The semi-deciduous rain forest around Sarteneja is in various states of modification from natural forest, through lightly logged forest, and areas of orchards, crop and pasture. Some farm areas are being reclaimed by forest in with this mosaic as a consequence of the land being generally parceled in lots of between 50 and 4 acres, with most about 10 to 15 acres. Much of this land is not effectively farmed and there are many areas of all stages of forest regrowth including old orchards. About 8km west of Sarteneja is a large national park, Shipstern Nature Reserve, that could act as a baseline for the effects of future development.

As a large animal model for the effects of forest fragmentation, we would assess the relationship between habitat modification and fragmentation on Baird’s tapir in the Sartenejan Region. The Sartenejan region is inhabited by numerous Baird’s tapirs as shown by widespread and numerous foot prints and anecdotal evidence from hunters. To our knowledge, hunters do not hunt Baird’s tapirs aroujnd Sartenaja as they recognise the importance of Baird’s tapirs conservation as the Belizean national animal. Baird’s tapirs are common to the extent that they can be a problem with crops. Consequently, there is the potential to develop a program for the amelioration of human/wildlife interaction.

The Sartenejan region provides a fairly well contiguous for Baird’s tapirs at the moment, but increasing development will modify it into a highly fragmented landscape for large mammals like Baird’s tapirs.

It would be revealing to compare the national park population of Baird’s tapirs and the population of Baird’s tapirs in the developing area, and how these populations interrelate. The project could be ongoing to see the effect of the type and increase of development on Baird’s tapirs numbers, and to ascertain the effect of habitat modification and corridors on their movement and familial relationships of Baird’s tapirs.

This project has a close relationship with the community and we have discussed the project with hunters and landholders. During the extended dry season, of up to 100 days without rain, Baird’s tapirs inhabit the few waterholes and soaks in the area. This offers an ideal opportunity to sample feces to provide DNA to assess the movement and range, family realtionships, and population demography of Baird’s tapirs. The local hunters and landholders have agreed to assist us, and are particularly interested in identifying possible ecotourism sites from the results of the project.

We can provide for research needs including accommodation, GIS systems for mapping, work and storage space, and scientific management.