Public invited to free talk on ‘A Brief History of Tapirs’ at ETSU and GSB Natural History Museum at Gray Fossil Site

JOHNSON CITY – The “plight” of the tapir will be discussed by Dr. Matt Colbert of the University of Texas in a public talk entitled “A Brief History of Tapirs” on Tuesday, June 17, at the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at the Gray Fossil Site.

The tapir is the “lovable, yet completely indescribable mascot” for ETSU’s fossil site museum as more than 70 tapir specimens have been uncovered at the Miocene-era dig so far, which is more than has been recovered at any site in the world.

Colbert specializes in the evolution of tapirs and talks about the subject to increase knowledge of the species, as well as raise awareness for the plight of the endangered animal, which is found only in Central America, South America and Malaysia.

He received his master’s degree in biology at San Diego State University before earning his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Texas at Austin, where his dissertation covered various issues relating to the evolution of the tapir.  Information regarding behavior, diet and habitat provide explanations about the extinction of a species, like the dwarf tapir found at the Gray Fossil Site, and can be used to help prevent the loss of endangered species such as the Baird’s, Mountain, Lowland and Malayan tapirs.

Colbert, who received his undergraduate degree from the University of California–Berkeley with a double major in paleontology and zoology, now works in the High-Resolution X-ray CT facility at Texas and specializes in scanning and analyzing natural history specimens.

Tuesday’s free 5 p.m. event in the museum’s Eastman Credit Union Multi-Media Classroom will informally launch the inaugural Southeastern Association of Vertebrate Paleontology Conference, which is being co-sponsored June 18-21 by the museum and ETSU’s Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology as well as the Johnson City Power Board.

For information, visit or call toll free 1-866-202-6223.