Knowing whether a species has been extirpated, or if it ever inhabited a specific geographic area, has direct importance for planning conservation activities. The taruka (Hippocamelus antisensis) is one of the largest Neotropical mammals; it is distributed in the central Andes, and there are published records of this species in Ecuador. Recently, missing museum specimens have cast doubts on the validity of these Ecuadorian records. Here, we examine whether the taruka ever inhabited Ecuador by analyzing multiple sources of information. Our approach consists of 3 components: 1) we surveyed archaeological collections and literature for any biological remains and cultural artifacts that may represent tarukas, 2) we searched mammal collections for specimens reported in publications, and 3) we generated ecological niche models (ENMs) of current and past climates to determine whether Ecuador offers suitable habitats for the taruka. Our results suggest that the taruka never inhabited Ecuador. We did not find any reliable supporting evidence in the form of specimens nor convincing literature reports. Furthermore, ENMs revealed that Ecuador has not supported suitable climates for the taruka. We suggest that published records of taruka in Ecuador may have been due to improper identifications of specimens. The methods used here may also prove useful in determining the presence of species that are either thought to be extinct, or suspected to be recently introduced into a new geographic area.
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Vol. 97 • No. 1