South American Tapir (Tapirus terrestris)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family:    Tapiridae
Size:    Length: 6 feet (1.8 m)  Height: 2.5 feet (76 cm) to the shoulder
Weight: 300 to 500 pounds (136 to 227 kg)
Diet: Fruit, especially bananas, as well as grasses and plants 
Distribution: South America
Young:  1 calf every other year
Animal Predators:  Pumas and jaguars
IUCN Status: Lower Risk, Near Threatened
Terms: Young: Calf
Lifespan: Approximately 30 years of age in captivity



·       There are four species of tapirs, all of which are endangered.

·       They are related to horses and rhinoceroses.

·       The Piaroas Indians believe their ancestors are reincarnated as tapirs, and consider them sacred.

·       South American tapirs are also known as “lowland tapirs” or “Brazilian tapirs.”

·       The word “tapir” comes from an Indian word meaning “thick,” and refers to their skin.



Tapirs have a body resembling that of a pig, and like pigs, they are highly intelligent, and can be very friendly and affectionate. A unique feature of tapirs is their nose, which is long and works the same as an elephant’s trunk. South American tapirs also have a prominent ridge along the back of their neck, which may protect them from predators. They are black and brown or grey and brown in colour. Females are much larger than males. 



Tapirs once ranged throughout nearly all of South America, but their range has become more and more limited as forests are being cut down to accommodate human development. However, they can still be found in limited quantities in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.


Feeding Habits

Tapirs eat grasses and plants, using their nose to grasp the food and deliver it to their mouth. They also love fruit, and bananas are by far their favourite food. 



Mating between tapirs involves much chasing around (mostly the male chasing the female) and squealing (both genders). The female has a 13-month pregnancy and usually gives birth to one calf (twins are known, but rare) weighing from 15 to 25 pounds (6.8 to 11 kg). For the next year, the calf gains approximately one pound (0.45 kg) per day. The baby is born with brown fur, and an extremely unique pattern of white stripes alternating with lines of white dots. The markings disappear within five to eight months. The calf stays with its mother until a new baby is born, or at most, until it reaches two years of age.



Tapirs are playful animals that love to romp, splash in water and squeak at each other. Like horses, they gallop and trot, and even change leads while cantering. Tapirs have a keen sense of smell and can move their nose in all directions while trying to detect the direction of an odour. Although tapirs are usually playful and harmless, when provoked or threatened they can become extremely ferocious, stamping their feet, whistling, and biting with their strong jaws. Their first reaction, however, is to run away by crashing through the jungle, bulldozing a path. Tapirs usually head for water, where they feel safe. They are extremely good swimmers and can even walk along the bottom of a river, closing up their nostrils while underwater. Tapirs are seen either alone or in small family groups. New research indicates that tapirs most likely mate for life. They usually sleep during the hot midday and the middle of the night, and feed during the early evening and just before daybreak.



South American tapir populations have decreased due to hunting and habitat destruction. 



Brazilian Tapir Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US