A-z - Animals

tapir

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Surprisingly, the roots of modern tapir species go all the way back to the Eocene Epoch, between 560 and 33.9 million years ago.

These early tapirs were smaller than modern tapirs and did not have elongated snouts or upper lips. These species weigh up to 400 pounds and are often half the size of existing species.

evolution

The first examples of long-nosed tapirs appeared during the Oligocene epoch, 23 million years ago. The 30-million-year-old species was nearly identical to its living relatives. In fact, today's South American, Asian and mountain tapirs evolved very little over the past 20 to 30 million years.

Tapirs are considered living fossils because they haven't changed much since their evolution more than 50 million years ago and are considered one of the most primitive large mammals in the world.

Generally, these animals are solid creatures with large, prominent hips. They are covered with varying amounts of red, brown, gray or black fur. Mountain tapirs, which inhabit the Andes, were smaller and more hairy than other living species.

Tapirs are animals that resemble many animals, some of which are thought to be closest to donkeys, but they can weigh up to 800 pounds and be over 6 feet long. They are also between two and four feet tall at the shoulder. Their tough coat is repellent from most predators.



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5 Unbelievable Tapir Facts!

  • Tapirs are animals that have existed on Earth for over 30 million years.
  • They live in grasslands, forests, swamps, mountains, and other environments in South America, Asia, and India.
  • They have 42 to 44 teeth.
  • Tapirs have 52 to 80 chromosomes, depending on the species.
Tapirs have lived on Earth for over 30 million years!

© Just chaos / Creative Commons

scientific name

There are four extant species of this animal, including:

  • Tapir , or South American tapir
  • Tapir pinchaque or long-haired tapir
  • Tapir , or Malayan tapir
  • Tapirus bairdii or Baird tapir.

The fifth species, whose scientific name is Tapirus kabomani or Kabomani Tapir, has not been officially recognized. In the millions of years since this unique creature first appeared, there have been at least 15 other known extinct species besides the living species.

appearance and behavior

In general, modern tapirs have a long snout, called a proboscis, that is all-round. They use this flexible appendage to gather berries, fruits and other plants from all surrounding areas. They have 42 to 44 teeth in their mouths, most of which are flat and help in grinding up plants and fruit.

Except for their snouts, these animals were similar in size and shape to wild boars or rhinos. They can reach over six feet long and nearly three feet tall. They weigh between 400 and 800 pounds as adults, and their tough skin makes them resistant to many predators native to South America, India, and Asia.

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These animals are usually solitary animals. They will gather in small groups, called candles, for breeding and social interaction. Babies, called calves, stay with their mothers until they are six to eight months old. At that point, they leave on their own and the mother is free to raise another offspring.

Tapir mother with baby
Tapirs have different native habitats.

©Lucas Leuzinger/Shutterstock.com

Habitat

The tapir has different native habitats, depending on its species and where it is found. For example, the South American species, Tapirus terrestris , lives in the grasslands of Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, and Guyana.

In contrast, the Baird tapir, Tapirus bairdii , roams the grasslands of Mexico, Central America, and parts of northern South America. The mountain tapir is smaller and hairier than its cousins. It lives mainly in the Andes.

The Indian or Asian tapir is found in Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos. It is also found in Malaysia, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Thailand and Vietnam. These animals love to forage in the jungles and rainforests of these countries.

diet

A photograph of a tapir smiling at the camera in the central frame. Its teeth need cleaning.
Tapirs are herbivores that use their long snouts to grab objects that seem out of reach.

©Margus Vilbas Photography/Shutterstock.com

All species are herbivores, meaning their diet consists only of grasses, seeds, fruits, and other plants. The creature's proboscis can move in various directions to grab low-lying leaves and fruit that other animals might not be able to reach. The animal doesn't eat meat, so its teeth are used only to grind up its nutritious food.

Predators and Threats

The animal has tough skin on its back and neck that helps protect it from the many predators that might want to use it as a source of meat. However, alligators have been known to attack them when they wallow in swamps and mud holes or try to cool off in lakes and rivers.

Wild jungle cats that roam the grasslands of Central America or the jungles of South America and Asia may also prey on these animals. Tigers, jaguars, and pumas are examples of three big cats that hunt tapirs.

Although natural enemies are few, perhaps the greatest threat to the animal's survival is humans. Tapirs have been hunted for centuries not only for their meat but also for their hides. The strong, durable hide of tapirs has made them highly prized for leather goods in parts of Asia and India.

Deforestation and the destruction of natural mating habitats are other major risks faced by these animals. In fact, all four tapir species are endangered or vulnerable, according to Conservation Tracker. None of these species are estimated to number more than 4,500 individuals in nature.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Small striped baby of the endangered South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris)
After birth, the calf is weaned for the next six to eight months.

©Artush/Shutterstock.com

These animals have a relatively long gestation period. In South America and Asia, they usually try to mate before the rainy season. If successful, 13 months later, at the onset of the rainy season, a male or female baby called a calf is born.

The mother can hold only one calf at a time. After birth, the female spends the next six to eight months raising and weaning her offspring. At that point, the cubs are nearing adulthood and the mother can find a new mate. A female tapir can give birth to a calf every two years during her life.

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Female tapirs usually reach sexual maturity before male tapirs. Female tapirs can become sexually active as early as three years old, while male tapirs may take four to five years to reach full maturity. Once mature, breeding can take place on land, or while the tapir is cooling off in a lake, river, or other large body of water.

Whether in the wild or in captivity in zoos, tapirs have a very stable lifespan. In fact, most individuals of the four recognized tapir species live between 20 and 30 years. Their consistent lifespan may be due to their large size, tough hide, and other natural defenses that limit the number of true predators they have in the wild.

population

All four recognized species are listed as vulnerable or endangered.

©Sasha Kopf/Creative Commons

All recognized tapir species are listed as Vulnerable or Endangered on the Wildlife Registry. None of the four species has a wild population of more than 4,500 individuals. Scientists believe there may be as few as 3,000 Malayan tapirs in the world. Baird tapirs number just over 4,500 individuals.

tapir in the zoo

These animals usually do well in zoos. Their life expectancy is surprisingly similar whether in captivity or in the wild. These animals typically live 20 to 30 years, but some specimens have lived 35 or more years in zoos. In fact, the San Diego Zoo has an established breeding program that has produced more than 30 baby tapirs over the past 80 years.

Tapirs can be kept with other species native to Central America, South America, or Asia. For example, at the San Diego Zoo, tapirs live in the same exhibit as capybaras and guanacos.

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about the author


I was born in New York, got my journalism degree from Boston University, took a detour to San Diego, and am now back in New York. I love traveling with my husband, but always miss my favorite little Peanuts, half Chihuahua/half Jack Russell, all the trouble. We are certified to dive so one day we can dive with great white sharks and I hope I can swim with orcas too. If my house fits it, I'll add a pig – or a sloth.

Tapir FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What do tapirs eat?

Tapirs eat grass, seeds, fruits, berries, and other vegetation. They do not eat meat and are therefore classified as herbivores. Most tapirs consume 75 to 80 pounds of food per day.

What is a tapir?

Tapirs are ancient animals that first appeared in their present form 20 to 30 million years ago. Although 15 tapir species have become extinct in that time, the remaining four or five tapir species have evolved very little compared to those early ancestors.

Tapirs look like a cross between a pig and an aardvark. It has a long snout and can gather food from all directions like a normal anteater. However, it also has thick leather and a neck like a wild boar. However, it does not have tusks or horns like wild boars.

It weighs up to 800 pounds and is between 4 and 8 feet long. As such, its large hips and stocky body have a lot in common with rhinos.

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Where do tapirs live?

Tapirs live in a wide range of areas from Mexico and Central America to Brazil, Colombia, Peru and other South American countries. Asian or Indian tapirs can be seen in Myanmar, India, Vietnam, and other South Asian countries. They like to roam in meadows, savannahs, swamps and wet rainforests.

How do you pronounce tapir?

For a five-letter word, Tapir has a surprising number of acceptable pronunciations, depending on where in the world you are. TAY-per, TAY-peer, Ta-PEER, and TAY-pee-er are all acceptable pronunciations of this animal name.

Are tapirs endangered?

Yes! Three-quarters of all recognized tapir species are threatened with extinction. The South American or Brazilian tapir is slightly more abundant but is still listed as vulnerable. Most scientists agree that all four species of tapirs have populations of no more than 4,500 to 5,000 individuals.

Conservation efforts are underway to try and save this unique animal that has existed on Earth for millions of years. However, the long gestation period and the fact that female tapirs can only bear one offspring at a time make rebuilding populations difficult.

Are tapirs dangerous?

Tapirs are generally not dangerous, although there have been some rare reports of attacks on humans. Most tapirs mark their paths so others know they are in the area. Other tapirs typically travel by sticking their noses to the ground to sniff for scents. This approach allows them to avoid fights with other members of the species in the area.

To which kingdom do tapirs belong?

Tapirs belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do tapirs belong to?

Tapirs belong to the phylum Chordate.

What kind of tapir is it?

Tapirs belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do tapirs belong to?

Tapirs belong to the family Tapiridae.

What order do tapirs belong to?

Tapirs belong to the order Perissodactyla.

What genus does tapir belong to?

Tapirs belong to the genus Tapirus.

What type of mulch do tapirs have?

Tapirs are covered with fur.

What type of habitat do tapirs live in?

Tapirs live in grasslands, swamps, mountains and forests.

What are the natural enemies of tapirs?

Natural predators of tapirs include crocodiles, jaguars, tigers, mountain lions and other feral cats.

What is the average litter size for tapirs?

The average litter size of a tapir is 1.

What are some interesting facts about tapirs?

Tapirs are most closely related to horses and rhinos!

How long do tapirs live?

Tapirs can live 20 to 30 years.

What is the name of the little tapir?

Young tapirs are called calves.

How many species of tapirs are there?

There are 4 species of tapirs.

What is the greatest threat to tapirs?

The greatest threats to tapirs are poaching for meat and hides and habitat loss.

What is another name for tapir?

The tapir is also known as the Baird tapir, the lesser black tapir, the hairy tapir, or the Asian/Indian tapir.

How many tapirs are left in the world?

There are 3,000 to 4,500, depending on the species of tapir.

How fast are tapirs?

Tapirs can travel at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.

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source
  1. Wikipedia, available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapir
  2. National Geographic, available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/group/tapirs/
  3. Live Science, available here: https://www.livescience.com/55207-tapir-facts.html#:~:text=Tapirs%20are%20the%20most%20primitive,to%2023%20million%20years% 20 ago).
  4. Animal Corner, available here: https://animalcorner.org/animals/tapir/
  5. Mongabay, available here: https://kids.mongabay.com/animal-profiles/malayan_tapir.html