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HomeTopicsEnvironment and WildlifeCosta Rica Wildlife - I Finally Saw a Baird's Tapir

Costa Rica Wildlife – I Finally Saw a Baird’s Tapir

In Costa Rica, a land of mostly small creatures, a giant lurks in the shadows. Costa Rica is not Africa, where a huge number of species pack more bulk than a full-grown man. Most of Costa Rica’s creatures are small enough to pick up and embrace in a bear hug (not recommended). There is one 500-pound giant pushing through the underbrush, the Baird’s tapir, and until last week it had eluded my tapir-loving gaze. Well, I finally saw one, and I’m so tickled pink that I’m going to tell you all about it.

The fateful event happened in hot, hot Guanacaste. My mother-in-law was in town which meant that I had some extra backup to watch my two boys. This freed me up to do what I like to do best, hike around the forest and check camera traps. I work hard to earn paying contracts so I can pay for silly things like food and electricity, but my dirty secret is that I’d do it all for free if I could. So, on this day I was doing some pro bono camera trapping in a massive, protected area in Guanacaste.

The plan was to start early in the morning to beat the heat and drive my truck on the dirt roads within the property to the camera locations. I was assured that the roads were in good shape, which I found to be the case as I drove up to a tree-lined lake in the middle of the forest. I checked the camera I had set up in an attempt to record crocodiles (I recorded a few nice videos!) and returned to the truck to drive to the next batch of cameras that were located in a mostly dry riverbed with a few remaining waterholes.

The last time I checked these cameras was with a friend on an ATV and the roads were in such bad shape that we were stranded for a while, and I started getting that panicky feeling in my heart that we were in trouble. Even though I was assured the roads were now in much better shape, I pictured how mad my wife would be when I told her the story about how my truck got stranded deep in the forest while I was out working for free, so I decided to walk.

What I remembered as a pretty short ATV ride, turned out to be a decently long walk. It took a solid hour and half to walk to the camera location and about 45 minutes to check the cameras. I now had the hour and half return to the truck walk ahead of me and it was late morning, and the heat was really starting to kick up a few notches. After trudging through the shadeless heat, I finally saw the glint of the sun on my truck’s windshield. I pictured a new dry t-shirt, a refilled water bottle, and a little time sitting in the front seat with the AC on.

I reach the truck, swing open the back door, clunk my backpack down in the bed, and as I’m ripping my sweaty shirt off, I see a giant tapir head sitting in the middle of the lake about 200 meters from the truck. I gasped audibly and had that same tingly-heart feeling that I had about being stranded but this time based in positivity.

This was my first tapir sighting, and I wanted to get a little better view. My plan was ninja-based. I started quietly sneaking along the bank of the lake (like a ninja), only moving when the wind blew to cover the sound of my steps, and sliding behind a tree every time the bathing tapir turned its head in my direction. I did this extremely slowly, enjoying the sight of its crazy long nose and white-tipped ears as I slid from tree to tree.

I didn’t want to get too close and interrupt its bath, so I set up camp behind a guacimo tree that would allow me to watch at a good distance and take a picture with my cellphone, so I’d have a photo to accompany the Tico Times article that I was definitely going to write about this.

I lifted my phone, zoomed in properly, and just as I was about to push the button on the screen, a strong gust of wind blew from behind me, carrying my terribly sweaty man stink directly to the tapir’s long, extended nose. It immediately knew something smelled like trouble and exploded out of the lake and into the surrounding forest before I could even hit the button.

So enjoy the accompanying photo. It’s a screenshot of a tapir video that I recorded near Tenorio National Park. I failed to record a photo of the tapir in a lake to share with you, but I’ll have that picture in my head for the rest of my life.

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at:

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