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Photo by Fabrício R. Santos

Just last week, scientists in the Brazilian Amazon announced what is already being called one of the biggest discoveries of the century: a new species of tapir, known as Tapirus kabomani.

Tapirs are a large pig-like mammal with a short snout, in the same family as horses and rhinoceroses; the Kabomani tapir is the first new species of this order to be discovered in over a hundred years. This tapir is similar to the Brazilian tapir, but is distinguished by its darker hair, different skull shape, and smaller size, weighing up to about 250 pounds.

While this dwarf tapir is making headlines in the scientific community, it’s nothing new to the local indigenous communities, who have long hunted it in the grasslands and forests of the Amazon.  As early as 1914, Theodore Roosevelt studied a specimen brought back from a hunting trip, saying it ““…was a bull, full grown but very much smaller than the animal I had killed. The hunters said that this was a distinct kind.” But the American scientists at the time classified it as just a variation of the Brazilian tapir. Recognizing the major role of indigenous people in identifying the species, its scientific name of “kabomani” comes from the word for “tapir” in the local Paumari language.

Tapirs play an important role in the ecosystem, and are currently considered threatened with extinction because of habitat destruction in the region.