COLORADO SPRINGS — The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo wants visitors to meet Cofan, the zoo’s 18-year-old mountain tapir, for World Tapir Day.

CMZoo is one of two zoos in North America that care for the endangered mountain tapir species. Cofan was sent to Colorado on a breeding recommendation with CMZ’s late mountain tapir, Carlotta. He is a rarity as one of only six mountain tapirs that is in human care in North America. Cofan is also the first mountain tapir to receive kidney removal surgery and has been healthy ever since.

Courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Mountain tapir’s have been losing their native habitats in the Andes mountains due to growing human populations. The species were first discovered in Columbia, Ecuador, and the far north of Peru. It is estimated that only 2,500 mountain tapirs remain in the wild.

CMZoo sent four staff members on an expedition to Ecuador in 2015. It included local guides from Ecuador, Smithsonian, and representatives from the Andean Bear Foundation. The CMZoo expedition team tracked critically endangered mountain tapir and educated local schools about the native species. Five wild tapirs were studied through GPS collars that relayed data to the team.

The project yielded information regarding the health, behaviors, and territory of the species. Team members documented wild tapir measurements, reproductive trends, biometrics and geographic data. These studies were vital in proving which areas of wilderness needed protection.

During the Membership Conservation Grant Vote, members helped decide which projects receive part of a $75,000 budget allocated towards such projects. In the past, CMZoo members voted three times to support ongoing mountain tapir research and conservation efforts in Ecuador.

“On World Tapir Day, we are hoping to inspire people to protect wild tapir,” said Rachel Wright, CMZ’s PR and media specialist. “They are critical to the environment they live in. They’re the gardeners of the forest. Saving them means saving their forests in Ecuador and the countless other animals who live there.”