The path of the tapir
AUTHOR: JACK EWING
“Hey, boss. You won’t believe what we just saw: a spider monkey.” exclaimed Juan Ramón excitedly. “Oh my God,” I exclaimed. “The wildlife corridor is working.”
The monkey was a lone male and had to have come from the Dos Bocas area by way of the Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor (PTBC), the first locally extinct animal to return to an area where it was once abundant. All of the spider and howler monkeys north of the Barú River had died 50 years earlier, in 1947, during an epidemic of yellow fever.
Four years after the sighting of the spider monkey, squirrel monkeys were seen for the first time. In the early 2000s, we suspected that a puma was visiting Hacienda Barú from time to time. Still, it wasn’t until 2009 that a couple of visitors came face to face with two young pumas, probably littermates who were weaned but still hanging out together. Their appearance was a milestone as it signified that the ecosystem was healthy enough to support a large predator.
In 2012 the howler monkeys returned, and in 2014 the scarlet macaws. 2019 brought us the Montezuma oropendola. Numerous other, less charismatic species of birds have also appeared on Hacienda Barú in the last 20 years. The entire coastal area, which includes the PTBC and the Costa Ballena suffered severe deforestation during four and a half decades beginning in 1940. Trees were felled, and the area was converted mostly to cattle pasture and rice farming.
Public opinion and government policy toward the rainforest started to change in the mid-1980s, farming and ranching diminished, and natural vegetation returned to once denuded areas. The Path of the Taír Baru Corridor project was initiated in 1990. The return of the species mentioned above attests to the effectiveness of the corridor, and several tapir sightings in the northern part give hope that they too, and possibly the jaguars will soon return. Living in the Path of the Tapir is not only fascinating, but it is also a special privilege that I hope we all appreciate and work to perpetuate.