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Fossil range: Early Eocene–Recent
Brazilian Tapir
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Superfamily: Tapiroidea
Family: Tapiridae
Gray, 1821
Genus: Tapirus
Brünnich, 1772

See text.

A tapir (pronounced /ˈteɪpər/ "taper", or /təˈpɪər/ "ta-pier") is a large browsing mammal, roughly pig-like in shape, with a short, prehensile snout. Tapirs inhabit jungle and forest regions of South America, Central America, and Southeast Asia. There are four species of Tapirs, being the Brazilian tapir, the Malayan tapir, Baird's tapir and the mountain tapir. All four species of tapir are classified as endangered or vulnerable. Their closest relatives are the other odd-toed ungulates, including horses and rhinoceroses.



There are four widely recognised extant tapir species, though some authors describe more, and a number of extinct species:

  • Baird's Tapir, Tapirus bairdii
  • Malayan Tapir, Tapirus indicus
  • Mountain Tapir, Tapirus pinchaque
  • Brazilian Tapir (also called Lowland Tapir), Tapirus terrestris
  • Black Dwarf Lowland Tapir, Tapirus pygmaeus[1] (validity questionable)
  • Tapirus polkensis
  • Tapirus merriami
  • Tapirus veroensis
  • Tapirus copei
  • Tapirus californicus


Hybrid tapirs from the Baird's Tapir and the Brazilian Tapir were bred at the San Francisco Zoo around 1969 and produced a second generation around 1970.[2]

General appearance

Size varies between types, but most tapirs are about 2 meters (7 ft) long, stand about a meter (3 ft) high at the shoulder, and weigh between 150 and 300 kg (330 to 700 lb). Coats are short and range in color from reddish-brown to grey to nearly black, with the notable exceptions of the Malayan Tapir, which has a white saddle-shaped marking on its back, and the Mountain Tapir, which has longer, woolly fur. All tapirs have oval, white-tipped ears, rounded, protruding rumps with stubby tails, and splayed, hoomfged toes, with four toes on the front feet and three on the hind feet, which help them walk on muddy and soft ground. Baby tapirs of all types have striped-and-spotted coats for camouflage. Females have a single pair of mammary glands.[3]

Physical characteristics

The proboscis of the tapir is a highly flexible structure, able to move in all directions, allowing the animals to grab foliage that would otherwise be out of reach. Tapirs often exhibit the flehmen response, a posture in which they raise their snouts and show their teeth, in order to detect scents. This response is frequently exhibited by bulls sniffing for signs of other males or females in oestrus in the area. Proboscis length varies among species; Malayan Tapirs have the longest snouts and Brazilian Tapirs have the shortest.[4] The evolution of tapir probosces, made up almost entirely of soft tissues rather than bony internal structures, gives the Tapiridae skull a unique form in comparison to other perissodactyls, with a larger sagittal crest, orbits positioned more rostrally, a posteriorly telescoped cranium, and a more elongated and retracted nasoincisive incisure.[5][6]

Sketch of the skull of a tapir, compared with a Malayan tapir shown in profile

Tapirs have brachyodont, or low-crowned, teeth that lack cement. Their dental formula is


totaling 42 to 44 teeth; this dentition is closer to that of equids, who may differ by one less canine, than their other perissodactyl relatives, rhinoceroses.[7][8] Their incisors are chisel-shaped, with the third large, conical upper incisor separated by a short gap from the considerably smaller canine. A much longer gap is found between the canines and premolars, the first of which may be absent.[9] Tapirs are lophodonts, and their cheek teeth have distinct lophs (ridges) between protocones, paracones, metacones and hypocones.[10][11]

Tapirs have brown eyes, often with a bluish cast to them which has been identified as corneal cloudiness, a condition most commonly found in Malayan Tapirs. The exact etiology is unknown, but the cloudiness may be caused by excessive exposure to light or by trauma.[12][13] However, the tapir's sensitive ears and strong sense of smell help to compensate for deficiencies in vision.


Young tapirs reach sexual maturity between three and five years of age, with females maturing earlier than males.[14] Under good conditions, a healthy female tapir can reproduce every two years; a single youngster is born after a gestation of about 13 months. The natural lifespan of a tapir is approximately 25 to 30 years, both in the wild and in zoos.[15] Apart from mothers and their young offspring, tapirs lead almost exclusively solitary lives.


The undersides of the front (left, with four toes) and back (right, with three toes) feet of a Malayan tapir at rest

Although they frequently live in dryland forests, tapirs with access to rivers spend a good deal of time in and under the water, feeding on soft vegetation, taking refuge from predators, and cooling off during hot periods. Tapirs near a water source will swim, sink to the bottom and walk along the riverbed to feed, and have been known to submerge themselves under water to allow small fish to pick parasites off their bulky bodies.[16] Along with fresh water lounging, tapirs often wallow in mud pits, which also helps to keep them cool and free of insects.

In the wild, the tapir’s diet consists of fruit, berries, and leaves, particularly young, tender growth. Tapirs will spend many of their waking hours foraging along well-worn trails, snouts to the ground in search of food. Baird’s Tapirs have been observed to eat around 40 kilograms (85 pounds) of vegetation in one day.[17]

Tapirs are largely nocturnal and crepuscular, although the smaller Mountain Tapir of the Andes is generally more active during the day than its congeners. They have monocular vision.

Copulation may occur in or out of water, and in captivity, mating pairs will often copulate multiple times during oestrus.[18][19]

An adult Malayan Tapir at the San Diego Zoo

Habitat, predation and vulnerability

Adult tapirs are large enough that they have few natural predators, and the thick skin on the backs of their necks helps to protect them from threats such as jaguars, crocodiles, anacondas, and tigers. The creatures are also able to run fairly quickly, considering their size and cumbersome appearance, finding shelter in the thick undergrowth of the forest or in water. Hunting for meat and hides has substantially reduced their numbers and, more recently, massive habitat loss has resulted in the conservation watch-listing of all four species: both the Brazilian Tapir and the Malayan Tapir are classified as vulnerable; and the Baird’s Tapir and the Mountain Tapir are endangered. Tapirs tend to prefer old growth forests and the food sources that can be found in them, making the preservation of primary woodlands a top priority for tapir conservationists.

Evolution and Natural History

The first tapirids, such as Heptodon, appeared in the early Eocene.[20] They appeared very similar to modern forms, but were about half the size, and lack the proboscis. The first true tapirs appeared in the Oligocene, and by the Miocene, such genera as Miotapirus were almost indistinguishable from the extant species. It is believed that Asian and American tapirs diverged around 20 to 30 million years ago, and that tapirs migrated from North America to South America around 3 million years ago, as part of the Great American Interchange.[21] For much of their history, tapirs were spread across the northern hemisphere, where they became extinct as recently as 10,000 years ago.[22] The species T. polkensis became extinct during the Miocene in Asia, while T. merriami, veroensis, copei, and californicus became extinct during the Pleistocene in North America.

It is also believed by some scientists that the tapir may have evolved from the Hyracotherium (a primitive horse).[23]


A baby Brazilian Tapir with spots and stripes characteristic of all juvenile tapirs

The species of tapir have the following chromosomal numbers:

Malayan Tapir, T. indicus 2n = 52
Mountain Tapir, T. pinchaque 2n = 76
Baird's Tapir, T. bairdii 2n = 80
Brazilian Tapir, T. terrestris 2n = 80

The Malayan tapir, the species most isolated geographically from the rest of the genus, has a significantly smaller number of chromosomes and has been found to share fewer homologies with the three types of American tapirs. A number of conserved autosomes (13 between karyotypes of the Baird’s Tapir and Brazilian Tapir, and 15 between the Baird’s and Mountain Tapir) have also been found in the American species that are not found in the Asian animal. However, geographic proximity is not an absolute predictor of genetic similarity; for instance, G-banded preparations have revealed that Malayan, Baird’s and Brazilian Tapirs have identical X chromosomes, while Mountain Tapirs are separated by a heterochromatic addition/deletion.[24]

Lack of genetic diversity in tapir populations has become a major source of concern for conservationists. Habitat loss has isolated already small populations of wild tapirs, putting each group in greater danger of dying out completely. Even in zoos, genetic diversity is limited; all captive mountain tapirs, for example, are descended from only two founder individuals.[25]

An adult Malayan Tapir sitting


There are a number of conservation projects around the world. The Tapir Specialist Group, a unit of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, strives to conserve biological diversity by stimulating, developing, and executing practical programs to study, save, restore, and manage the four species of tapir and their remaining habitats in Central and South America and Southeast Asia.[26]

The Baird's Tapir Project of Costa Rica is the longest ongoing tapir project in the world, having started in 1994. It is currently led by Kendra Bauer and involves placing radio collars on tapirs in Costa Rica's Corcovado National Park to study their social systems and habitat preferences.[27]

27 April 2008, is World Tapir Day. The day has been established to raise awareness about the four species of tapir that inhabit Central and South America and South-East Asia.[28]

Attacks on humans

A mountain tapir. These are the most threatened of all the tapirs, and also the most woolly.

Tapirs are generally shy, but when they are scared they can defend themselves with their very powerful jaws. In 1998, a zookeeper in Oklahoma City was mauled and had an arm severed by a tapir bite, after she attempted to feed the attacking tapir's young.[29] In 2006, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Echandi (who was the Costa Rican Environmental Minister at the time) became lost in the Corcovado National Park was found by a search party with a "nasty bite" from a wild tapir.[30] However, such examples are rare; for the most part, tapirs are likely to avoid confrontation in favor of running from predators, hiding, or, if possible, submerging themselves in nearby water until a threat is gone.[31]

Frank Buck wrote about an attack by a tapir in 1926, which he described in his book, Bring 'Em Back Alive.[32]

Cultural references

In Chinese, Korean and Japanese, the tapir is named after a beast from Chinese mythology. A feature of this mythical creature is a snout like that of an elephant. In Japanese folklore, tapirs can eat people's dreams. In Chinese, the name of this beast, subsequently the name of the tapir, is in Mandarin and mahk in Cantonese (貘). The Korean equivalent is maek (Hangul: 맥, Hanja: 貊), while it is called baku (バク) in Japanese. The Chinese file hosting service Mofile has been referred to as the tapir by Chinese-speaking users.

The opening scene of the 2006 action-adventure film Apocalypto showcased the hunt of a Baird's tapir by Maya villagers.[33]

In the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, in a prehistoric scene, a tapir is shown being killed by an ape, with other tapirs shown nearby. The tapir was chosen because of its appearance, which is frequently described as being prehistoric, as there is no record of tapirs ever existing in Africa.[34]


  1. ^ van Roosmalen, M. g. m.. "A New Species of Living Lowland Tapir (Mammalia: Tapiridae) From the Brazilian Amazon". Retrieved 2009-02-07.  
  2. ^ Pictures of T. bairdii x T. terrestris cross taken by Sheryl Todd, The Tapir Gallery, web site of the Tapir Preservation Fund
  3. ^ Gorog, A. 2001. Tapirus terrestris, Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved June 19, 2006.
  4. ^ Witmer, Lawrence, Scott D. Sampson, and Nikos Solounias. “The proboscis of tapirs (Mammalia: Perissodactyla): a case study in novel narial anatomy”. Journal of Zoology, 1999, The Zoological Society of London; page 251
  5. ^ Witmer, page 249
  6. ^ Colbert, Dr. Matthew, 2002, "Tapirus terrestris" (On-line), Digital Morphology. Retrieved June 20, 2006.
  7. ^ Ballenger, L. and P. Myers. 2001. "Tapiridae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved June 20, 2006.
  8. ^ Huffman, Brent. Order Perissodactyla at Ultimate Ungulate
  9. ^ "PERISSODACTYLA." LoveToKnow 1911 Online Encyclopedia
  10. ^ Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Diversity of Cheek Teeth. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Retrieved June 20, 2006.
  11. ^ Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Basic Structure of Cheek Teeth. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Retrieved June 20, 2006.
  12. ^ Tapirs Described, the Tapir Gallery
  13. ^ Janssen, Donald L., DVM, Dipl ACZM, Bruce A. Rideout, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVP, Mark E. Edwards, PhD. "Medical Management of Captive Tapirs (Tapirus sp.)." 1996 American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Proceedings. Nov 1996. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Pp. 1-11
  14. ^ "Woodland Park Zoo Animal Fact Sheet: Malayan Tapir ''(Tapirus indicus)''". Retrieved 2009-11-02.  
  15. ^ Morris, Dale. “Face to face with big nose.” BBC Wildlife, March 2005, page 37.
  16. ^ Morris, page 36.
  17. ^ TPF News, Tapir Preservation Fund, Vol. 4, No. 7, July 2001. See section on study by Charles Foerster.
  18. ^ "Minimum Husbandry Standards: Tapiridae (tapirs)". Retrieved 2009-11-02.  
  19. ^ Animal Diversity Web fact sheet on Tapirus terrestris
  20. ^ Ballenger, L. and P. Myers. 2001. Family Tapiridae (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved November 22, 2007.
  21. ^ Ashley, M.V., Norman, J.E. and Stross, L.: "Phylogenetic analysis of the perissodactylan family tapiridae using mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase (COII) sequences." Mammal Evolution. 3:315-326, 1996.
  22. ^ Palmer, D., ed (1999). The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. London: Marshall Editions. p. 261. ISBN 1-84028-152-9.  
  23. ^ "Florida Museum of Natural History Fact Page". Retrieved 2009-11-02.  
  24. ^ Houck, M.L., S.C. Kingswood, A.T. Kumamoto. “Comparative cytogenetics of tapirs, genus Tapirus (Perissodactyla, Tapiridae). Cytogenetics and Cell Genetics 2000; 89: 110-115 (DOI: 10.1159/000015587)
  25. ^ Mountain Tapir Conservation at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  26. ^ "About the Tapir Specialist Group". Retrieved 2009-11-02.  
  27. ^ "Baird's Tapir Project of Costa Rica". 2009-02-18. Retrieved 2009-11-02.  
  28. ^ "About World Tapir Day". Retrieved 2009-11-02.  
  29. ^ "Woman's arm bitten off in zoo attack", Associated Press report by Jay Hughes, 20 Nov 1998
  30. ^ "Interview with Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Echandi", IUCN Tapir Specialist Group 2006
  31. ^ Goudot, Justin. "Nouvelles observations sur le Tapir Pinchaque (Recent Observations on the Tapir Pinchaque)," Comptes Rendus, Paris 1843, vol. xvi, pages 331-334. Available online with English translation by Tracy Metz. Report contains accounts of wild Mountain Tapirs shying away from human contact at salt deposits after being hunted, and hiding.
  32. ^ Bring 'em Back Alive: The Best of ... - Google Books. Retrieved 2009-11-02.  
  33. ^ [1] The First Tapir Movie Star?
  34. ^ [2]Tapirs in "2001: A Space Odyssey"

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also tapir



Tapir m.

  1. tapir (species of large odd-toed ungulates with a long prehensile upper lip.)

This German entry was created from the translations listed at tapir. It may be less reliable than other entries, and may be missing parts of speech or additional senses. Please also see Tapir in the German Wiktionary. This notice will be removed when the entry is checked. (more information) April 2008

Simple English

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Tapiridae
Gray, 1821
Genus: Tapirus
Brünnich, 1772

The Tapirs are a familiy of odd-toed ungulate mammals. They form the family Tapiridae with the only genus Tapirus.



  • Family Tapiridae
    • Brazilian Tapir or Lowland Tapir (Tapirus terrestris)
    • Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque)
    • Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii)
    • Asian Tapir or Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus)


Tapirs are about 2 m / 7 ft long and about 1 meter / 3 ft high. They weigh between 150 - 300 kg / 330 - 700 lb.

Tapirs have a rounded body and very short stubby tails. Tapirs have hoofed toes, with four toes on the front feet and three toes on the hind feet. The Tapir's upper lip and nose have formed a short trunk, and they have a long tongue.

Tapirs have a short fur, with colors that are reddish-brown to grey to nearly black. Exceptions are the Mountain Tapir and the Asian Tapir. The Mountain Tapir has longer wooly fur. The Asian Tapir has a black front part and legs, and a white middle part and back. All baby tapirs have brown fur, with lighter stripes and dots for camouflage.

Tapirs cannot see very well, but they have good hearing and a very good sense of smell. Tapirs also swim very well.


Tapirs live in of South America and Central America, except the Asian Tapir which lives in Southeast Asia. Tapirs live in dense forests, and close to water.


Tapirs are active at night. They eat leaves, fruit, berries, vegetables and nuts.

Tapirs live alone. After a pregnancy of about 13 months, the female gives birth to a single baby. After half a year the baby starts to lose the baby-coloring of its fur. When the young tapir is one year old it looks like an adult tapir, and it leaves its mother. Tapirs become mature when they are 4 years old. Tapirs can become 25 - 30 years old.


Look up Tapiridae in Wikispecies, a directory of species
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