The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America’s Largest Mammal
(Scientists in the Field Series)
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, ISBN 0547815484
The writer-and-photographer team who introduced readers to flightless parrots, snow leopards, tree kangaroos and the Goliath bird-eating tarantula turn their attention to the elusive lowland tapir.
“Traveling in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands with biologist Patricia “Pati” Medici and her team, Montgomery and Bishop experience long, hot days, cramped conditions, nervous waiting and itchy tick bites while searching for this solitary, nocturnal animal. There is a satisfying natural structure to this tale of science research in the field, as initial difficulties give way to the team’s most productive expedition ever. In less than a week, they see tapirs in the wild, find their tracks, take photographs, locate them through radio telemetry, collect “samples of tapir poop, skin, fur, and blood,” and capture and collar two new tapirs, with more to come. This research matters, and the author clearly explains why. Chapters about the team’s day-by-day experiences, written in a lively, first-person voice, include memorable detail; interspersed are sections introducing team members, the ranch where they (and a team investigating giant armadillos) are doing their research, a British teen who helped fund an expedition and record-keeping. Clearly labeled photographs of scientists at work, ranch life, tapirs and other animals of this unfamiliar part of the world add to the book’s appeal.”
— Kirkus STARRED REVIEW
Booklist has chosen The Tapir Scientist as one of its Top Ten Books on Sustainability for Youth: 2014.
Bank Street College of Education has chosen The Tapir Scientist as one of The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2014.
Imagine a pig. Give it a short, flexible trunk. Now hide it in Brazil’s wild wetlands, where it can feed on leaves and fruit, swim in freshwater pools and live in quiet solitude.
This is the Brazilian tapir, an odd-looking animal related to horses and rhinos, and known as much for being a recluse as a relic of prehistory, having changed little in appearance or behavior in tens of millions of years.
According to “The Tapir Scientist,” a captivating new photo book about an animal many people have never heard of, tapir populations were once plentiful across Europe, Asia and the Americas. But due to hunting and habitat loss, all four tapir types are quickly disappearing. Conservation efforts are complicated by the fact that tapirs — “nature’s shyest loners,” as the book describes them — are notoriously difficult to find.
The book describes the efforts of Brazilian field scientist Pati Medici, who is on a mission to save the tapir. Her work focuses on the lowland tapir, which is found in South America’s grasslands and rain forests.
The tapir’s existence has major implications for Brazil’s Pantanal, one of the world’s largest tropical wetlands, which has been likened to “the Everglades on steroids.” The ecosystem depends on the tapir to eat and defecate, ensuring the survival of the Pantanal’s lush foliage.
Writer Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop followed Medici and her team for two weeks as they dodged pumas, ticks and snakes and implemented telemetry technology and motion-sensor camera traps to capture the tapirs, outfit them with tracking devices and return them to the wild. Among other things, Medici hopes to figure out how much land a tapir needs to survive. “It’s a crucial first step to protecting this fascinating, widespread but little-known species,” the book says.
— The Washington Post
The indefatigable pairing of author Montgomery and photographer Bishop now heads to southwestern Brazil, where biologist Pati Medici and her crew study the indigenous lowland tapir amid the wildness of the Patanal wetlands. Montgomery is always good at conveying how laborious biological work can be, and that challenge is a strong focus here as Medici and her crew sprint into thorn-encrusted bushes, sit motionless for hours while being attacked by mosquitoes, and philosophically accept the layer of ticks their clothing accrues, all while getting more near-misses and false successes than actual tapir viewings. The book therefore offers a clear-eyed picture of the challenges and the joys of pioneering fieldwork, and the long wait for the actual tapir encounters allows readers to understand the field crew’s excitement when they manage to tag and study some new animals. The book also discusses the PR problem that tapirs, a lesser-known animal, face, while providing a tribute to the environmentally minded youngsters in Brazil and elsewhere who’ve gotten involved with the tapir’s cause. The region itself is a strong focus as well, with many of Bishop’s photographs documenting other local fauna. With its dense text and small print, this is definitely aimed at older readers of the Scientists in the Field series, but there’s plenty of information to inform and inspire budding field scientists. The book includes maps, a list of books and websites for more information, and an index.DS
— Bulletin of the Center of the Children’s Book
According to Montgomery, the tapir “looks like a cross between a hippo, an elephant, and something prehistoric,” and indeed the animal has survived for more than 12 million years. In this addition to the Scientists in the Field series, Montgomery and Bishop bring readers into Brazil’s Pantanal, an expanse of grasslands and subtropical forests, where a team of scientists tracks tapirs in an effort to understand them more completely. Profiles of scientists and ranchers, discussions of other animals of the Pantanal, Bishop’s typically electric nature photography, and a few tense moments in the wild combine to create a full, fascinating picture of tapirs and one place they call home, as well as the work being done to protect them. ”
— Publisher’s Weekly STARRED REVIEW
Where in the world are Montgomery and Bishop? The latest project of the award-winning dynamic duo takes the reader to Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest wetlands, where field scientist Patricia Medici leads a talented team in search of the unsung tapir. Montgomery’s typically polished narrative and Bishop’s illuminating photography showcases the research group’s camaraderie, as well as their dedication to protect tapirs by tagging and studying them in their natural habitats. Both the images and text highlight how the tight-knit team operates as a think tank when obstacles arise, such as the failure of the tranquilizing dart to adequately penetrate, and solutions must be found. Montgomery’s inclusion of the story of Benjamin, a British schoolboy who led a donation campaign, and Medici’s response— naming a tapir in his honor—serves to personalize the project and model what other young enthusiasts can do to help. This contribution to the Scientists in the Field series seamlessly blends eloquent text and vivid images to spotlight the gentle tapir and those field scientists whose lives are committed to conserve animal species for the sake of our environment and our humanity.
— Gail Bush, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW