COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.– On Tuesday, Sept. 28, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo announced the loss of a rare and special mountain tapir named Carlotta, age 27.
“Carlotta’s passing made me stop and think about how lucky we were to know her,” said Bob Chastain, CMZoo president and CEO. “It’s not only because she was a wonderful ambassador for her species in the wild, but because her species is so rarely seen at any zoo in the world.”
Carlotta was one of only seven mountain tapir in the U.S., housed at only two zoos. Cofan, a 17-year-old male mountain tapir who lives at CMZoo, is now one of the remaining six in human care. The other five live at the Los Angeles Zoo.
“I try to convey how lucky we are to give our community the chance to meet Amur leopards, an Eastern black rhino or a black-footed ferret. These animals are endangered in the wild and in human care, and it’s a rare opportunity for our community to be able to experience them all in one place,” Chastain said.
Of 241 organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, only 32 have homes for Amur leopards. Only 24 are home to Eastern black rhinos and only six facilities in the U.S. house black-footed ferrets. Hippos can be seen at only 31. Asiatic black bears are only visible in five, and Pallas’ cats are in just 16. All of these rare animals have homes at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
“Most people had never heard of a mountain tapir before coming to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo,” said Michelle Salido, lead tapir keeper. “Once they met Carlotta, they fell in love with her and her species. She was sweet and gentle. She loved to get chin scratches from guests. I love knowing that we helped thousands of people connect with an animal that’s critically endangered in the wild and extremely rare in zoos.”
In the wild, there are fewer than 2,500 adult mountain tapir remaining in their native Andes Mountains in South America. CMZoo members sent Salido and a team of CMZoo conservationists to track wild mountain tapir in Ecuador to learn more about them.
Carlotta, through voluntary blood draw training, contributed to the care of all mountain tapir in human care, by allowing her team to study her, as well as helped test-fit early GPS collar tracking.
“When we would scratch her belly, she would extend her legs, and we knew that meant she’d like an armpit scratch, too,” said Salido. “Of course, we were happy to do that.”
At 27 years old, Carlotta was the oldest female mountain tapir ever in human care in the U.S. as well as the oldest living mountain tapir in human care by three years at the time of her death.
Because mountain tapir are so rare in human care, not much is known about their life expectancies. Carlotta’s cause of death is suspected to be gastrointestinal issues complicated by her age.