Startling cracks and crashes resound through the darkness as a large, shadowy form approaches. I flash my headlamp towards the commotion but my light, blocked by a dense mat of spiny understorey palms, reveals nothing. Thinking the creature has retreated, I turn back to the trail - and freeze as the gleam of my lamp is reflected in a pair of eyes. The peeping of frogs and chirping of insects fills the air as my imagination runs riot. Jaguar? Puma? Or what? But as the beast shuffles closer, my fear is overtaken by curiosity -then the long, elephantine snout and maroon mohawk of a lowland tapir emerge from the shadows.