Face Time: Dr. Gerald Urquhart


Dr. Gerald Urquhart, assistant professor in the Lyman Briggs College and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, will head into the rainforests of Nicaragua for one purpose: to help save an endangered species known as Baird’s tapir, which are related to elephants. They have been eating farmers’ crops and have been largely hunted by farmers.

The State News: Why is it so important to save the tapirs?
Gerald Urquhart: Tapirs are a very important part of the rainforest ecosystem. As the largest fruit-eating … species in the rainforest, they play an important role in dispersal of the seeds of many rainforest trees. Without tapirs, some tree species might face extinction due to lack of a way to spread their seeds.

SN: Can you give some details about what will happen on this mission?
GU: Beginning in January … animals will be lured into large wooden boxes with fruit and then captured and tranquilized while sedated collars will be placed around their necks. After collaring, the animal will be released to go about its natural activities, and the GPS collar will allow us to track their movements. The information from the movement of the animals will allow us to answer important questions: One, where are the animals feeding — in the forest or in farmers’ crop fields and where do they spend most of their time, and two, how large of a home range does each animal have. This can be used in determining how many tapirs there are in Nicaragua.

SN: What’s so interesting about the tapirs?
GU: The Baird’s tapir is interesting for a number of reasons. First, they are the largest terrestrial animal in the rainforests of Central and South America. Second, Baird’s tapirs are very unique, with only four species of tapirs found on earth. Third, they’re kind of charming in their own special way, especially the spotted baby tapirs.

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