Back in the 1970’s the BCI dining facility offered food to both the human and animal residents of the island. Spider monkeys were regular customers, and their increasing aggression towards humans over the years contributed to the prohibition on feeding any animals. However, for a time, flocks of agoutis, coatis, monkeys, and even tapirs would come to the BCI dinner bell. Poaching was still a problem on the south end of the island, and part of the rationale was that these hand outs would help restrict the tapir movements and reduce their likelihood of being shot.
This wildlife spectacle was popular among biologists (except for the aggressive monkey part) and they turned their scientific eyes to the interactions between species lolling around between meals. To their surprise, they watched troops of coatis grooming ticks off the tapirs. The tapirs would even lay on their sides to give the scrambling insectivores access to their hard-to-reach areas. Karen Overall grabbed her binoculars and field book and counted over 100 ticks eaten by coatis in their 10-20min grooming bouts. She figured this offered the 5kg coatis a 20-400ml blood meal, which was a decent supplement to their normal fare of spiders, insects, and fruit.
These few tame tapirs were lab favorites, and given names like Alice and Louie. Deedra McClearn noted in 1990 that, after the termination of free food handouts, and the death of Alice and Louie (after 25+ years of entertaining biologists), no further coati-tapir interactions had been seen. Alice and Louie’s children kept to the forest, and coatis seemed to be content with their fruit and spider diet. Deedra suggested that this mutualism between coatis and tapirs was probably a temporary phenomenon resulting from the artificial feeding at the dining hall.
Nineteen years later our cameratrap captured this video of a tapir on BCI. Probably some great, great, great, grand child of Alice and Louie – this poor guy is loaded with ticks. The parasites don’t seem to bother him, as he feeds casually in front of our camera, his mind obviously on other topics (and I don’t mean food).
BCI is a more natural setting now, with no hunting anywhere on the island and no free handouts to the animals. Recovery of ocelot, puma and jaguar populations on BCI are just rewards for ecologists. However, I can’t help thinking that Louie the IV here wouldn’t prefer the good old days of papaya handouts and trips to the coati spa.