November 11, 2013

The Tapir Scientist text by Sy Montgomery, photos by Nic Bishop

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:45 am by suebe2

The Tapir Scientist:
Saving South America’s Largest Mammal
text by Sy Montgomery
photos by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Before I read this book, I didn’t know that tapir are South America’s largest mammal.  I would have voted for a jaguar or other large cat, but no.  The title goes to this animal about which so little is known.  Enter the focus of this book, Brazilian scientist Pati Medici.

Pati works in the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil to gather information about this animal that is unfamiliar to so many people.  In fact, so little is known that her team is gathering as much information as possible on diet, on range, on disease and which tapir is related to/associates with whom.  They gather this information by trapping and darting tapir.  Once the tapir is asleep, the team gives it a collar and takes a variety of samples and gathers data ranging from gender to size and age.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this particular book is that it portrays the difficulties and failures of science.  When darted tapir fail to fall asleep, the team cannot collar them.  Instead of bemoaning this failure, they work harder to figure out why the animal didn’t fall asleep. Is there a problem with the medications?  Is the dart not working correctly?  Are some tapir resistant?   Pati and her team work hard to solve this mystery and find a way to safely dart the tapir.  Young readers will see that failure isn’t always final and that it can lead to additional discoveries and innovations.

The other thing that I loved was the emphasis that we aren’t just talking safe for the scientist.  A tapir, especially a mother protecting young, can be a ferocious animal, weighing in at up to 400 pounds.  While they don’t take unnecessary chances, the team works hard to keep the animals safe.  Darted animals are carefully monitored.  They area in which they live is wetland and an animal that wanders into deep water before collapsing could drown.  A small, young animal that is still woozy from the drugs might fall prey to a puma.  And staying in a trap for too long is a stress to the animal and might harm its health in some way.   Sometimes caring for the animal means letting a stressed creature go instead of gathering data.  What a wonderful message when we so often believe that the end justifies the means.

Knowing that her readers are school-aged, Montgomery includes information on how one student helped keep the team in the field and how another inspired them to keep at their work.  Readers will be encouraged to look for opportunities to impact the world themselves.  This is definitely a worth addition to the Scientists in the Field series and a must for any young science classroom.  Readers will come out of it not only with knowledge about tapir but also how scientists in the field work to gather the information that is essential to their work.


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