By James Paladino/J.paladino@latinospost.com (staff@latinospost.com) | First Posted: Jan 22, 2013 11:56 PM EST

Young South American tapir Ailton is licked by its mother Carmina in their enclosure at the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg (Photo : Reuters)

In South America, researchers have discovered almost fifteen thousand lowland tapirs living in protected regions of Bolivia and Peru thanks to data collected from camera traps and interviews with officials posted within the national parks in question.

The herbivore is distinguished by its uniquely shaped, trunk-like snout, and typically populates grasslands and tropical forests. The tapir is currently the largest known terrestrial mammal in South America.

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The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) originally published its report in a press release, which drew from twelve years of research.

Robert Wallace, the lead author, explains that "The Maddi-Tambopata landscape is estimated to hold a population of at least 14,500 lowland tapirs making it one of the most important strongholds for lowland tapir conservation on the continent. These results underline the fundamental importance of protected areas for the conservation of larger species of wildlife threatened by hunting and habitat loss."

The report notes that lowland tapirs are particularly at risk from poachers due to their slow reproductive rates and the ease with which they can be tracked. Communities of tapirs were found to connect "national parks in northwest Bolivia and southeastern Peru."

"WCS commends our government and indigenous partners for their commitment to the Madidi-Tambopata Landscape," says WCS Latin America Director Julie Kunen. "Their dedication is clearly paying off with well-managed protected areas and more wildlife."

The vulnerable species is also a victim of deforestation, once again reinforcing the necessity of maintaining national parks to encourage the species' conservation.

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