Context. The Cerrado is a Global Biodiversity Hotspot as well as Brazil’s main frontier for large-scale agriculture and livestock production, making it one of the most threatened biomes in the country. Brazil is one of the biggest consumers of pesticides in the world and allows the use of chemicals that are banned in many other countries due to their adverse health effects in a wide range of species, including humans.
Aims. This study aimed to assess pesticide and metal exposure of the lowland tapir – a threatened, large herbivorous mammal – to support future studies of the role of these chemicals in tapir health, survivorship, and population viability.
Methods. Foot pad, proboscis, stomach contents, liver, bone, and nail samples were obtained from tapir carcasses found along highways (n = 87). (i) Atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) was used to detect metals in bone, nail and liver tissue; (ii) gas chromatography – nitrogen phosphorous detector (GC-NPD) to detect organophosphates in liver and skin; and (iii) high performance liquid chromatography – ultraviolet (HPLC-UV) to detect pyrethroids and carbamates in stomach contents.
Key results. Two carbamates (aldicarb and carbaryl), three organophosphates (diazinon, malathion, and mevinphos), two pyrethroids (deltamethrin and permethrin), and two toxic metals (cadmium and lead) were detected in different tapir tissue samples, some at concentrations high enough to cause adverse health effects. In 90% of roadkill tapirs that were subjected to a full post-mortem examination (n = 25), macroscopic alterations of liver and/or kidney tissue were observed.
Conclusions. This study provides the first report to date of the detection of pesticides and metals in lowland tapirs.
Implications. Some of the reported pesticide concentrations exceed environmental safety thresholds. Consequently, results from this study raise concerns over potential adverse health effects in tapirs that could lead to population level impacts, thus requiring further investigation.