Five million years ago, tapirs trotted all over Europe, Asia and the Americas. Now these big mammals with flexible snouts need help as their habitats continue to shrink. To the rescue has come Patricia Medici, a Brazilian scientist who has devoted her career to these solitary, nocturnal, hard-to-find creatures. This captivating book follows a two-week expedition run by Medici in the Pantanal, the world’s largest freshwater wetland. As with other books by writer Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop, readers get much more than facts about one particular species. Montgomery and Bishop reveal a sprawling landscape that contains cattle (ranches have taken over in the past 200 years) and some of the world’s most unusual animals. Besides the lowland tapir (whose babies look like four-legged watermelons), Montgomery introduces us to the capybara (a four-foot-long rodent), the giant anteater and the five-foot-long giant armadillo, which Medici’s husband studies. Readers also learn about all the questions that Medici’s team asks and what tools, ranging “from sticks to satellites,” it uses. Montgomery and Bishop don’t hide the frustrations of scientific fieldwork, but luckily they were part of a very successful expedition: Several tapirs were captured, outfitted with tracking devices, and quickly returned to the wild. The data the team gathered will help explain how to protect the tapir and its ecosystem. The only thing missing from this book is a look at the tapir’s amazing proboscis in motion.

— Abby McGanney Nolan


Saving South America’s Largest Mammal

By Sy Montgomery. Photographs by Nic Bishop

“The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America's Largest Mammal” by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop (HMH Books for Young Readers)

Houghton Mifflin. $18.99. Ages 10 and up