The Lowland Tapir

Tapirs look like a pig with a trunk, but they are most closely related to horses and rhinoceroses with several features more reminiscent of elephants or hippopotamus.

There are four species of Tapir:

  • Baird Tapir – Central & South America
  • Mountain (or woolly) Tapir – Andes Mountains, smallest of tapirs.
  • Malay Tapir – Malaysia & Sumatra, black and while in colouring, largest of all tapirs.
  • Lowland / Brazilian Tapir 
Alf the Tapir of Alma Park Zoo, is a Lowland or Brazilian Tapir.  He is the only Tapir on exhibit in Queensland.

Brazilian Tapirs are distinct from other Tapirs from their large stiff mane or crest that extends from the forhead to the should.

Alf is the size of a small pony standing at 90cm tall and weighing between 200-250kg.

Alf also appears to gallop like a horse when running.  His short trunk or prehensile proboscis is used to reach for leaves and fruits.

Tapirs have large teeth to grind plants and seeds.   Alf has four toes on his front feet and three toes on his hind feet.  These splayed toes assist him to navigate through soggy ground.

Habitat 

Lowland Tapirs prefer to live close to swamps and water in the lowland forests of the River Basin and Amazon Rainforest in South America.

They are comfortable swimmers and adept at climbing mountains to create paths to larger bodies of water.

They have a large range stretching from Colombia and Venezuela in the north, to Brazil, Argentina and in the south and as far west as Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.  The highest population densities of Brazilian Tapirs can be found in areas with lush vegetation with 2,000 to 4,000mm of rainfall per year.

Brazilian tapirs prefer tropical mountain forests, but are also present in swamps and lowland forests. It can be found from sea level up to 4500 meters in elevation.

They are adept mountain climbers and sometimes create paths to larger bodies of water. They prefer to live close to water, especially rivers, and are comfortable swimmers. The highest population densities are found in areas with lush vegetation and 2,000 to 4,000 mm of rainfall per year.

Alf the Lowland Tapir enjoying his morning swim.
Photo © Teale Shapcott

Behaviour

Tapirs are generally more active at night, preferring to hide or rest during the day.   If threatened by a jaguar, puma or anaconda, they will often escape to seek cover in the water.

Tapirs have a lifespan of approximately 20-30 years in the wild and up to 35 years in captivity.  Tapirs begin breeding in April through to June when they are 3 years of age.

Only one newborn Tapir is produced after a gestation period of 13 months.   Newborn Tapirs weigh 3-5kgs and have a dark brown coat with white stripes and spots to provide them with camouflage in the forest as they grow.

Rearing of young is accomplished completely by the female Tapir.  Offspring will suckle until the mothers stop producing milk at 6-8 months following birth.  Offspring stay with their mothers until they fully grown at 18 months of age.

Diet

Brazilian Tapirs are herbivores, enjoying a diet of small tree branches, shoots, aquatic plants, grasses and fruit.  Their short trunk allows the Tapir to forage for aquatic plants.

Alf enjoying fruit treats.
Photo © Teale Shapcott

Threats 

Lowland Tapirs are recognised as a vulnerable animals, however they are at a lower risk of extinction than other species of Tapir.   Populations of wild Lowland Tapirs are are decreasing due to competition with domestic livestock, habitat destruction and poaching for meat.

Lowland Tapir populations are being fragmented by hunting, deforestation and competition with domestic livestock.   The large size of the Lowland Tapir makes them a prized game animal for food and commercial sale by native and rural people of South America.

In Columbia, Tapirs are becoming endangered due to over-hunting.  The wild meat industry is developing throughout South America with Tapir meat frequently being sold in city markets.   In Paraguay and Argentina, Tapirs are hunted for their hides.  Hides are used to make sandals that are sold to tourists as souvenirs.

- See more at: http://www.arkive.org/lowland-tapir/tapirus-terrestris/#sthash.FVrdwn52.dpuf

Alf the Lowland Tapir is the size of a small pony.
Photo © Teale Shapcott

Conservation

The Tapir Specialist Group was formed to develop projects to assist with reducing illegal hunting of Tapirs.  Their projects include:

  • Establishing reserves for Tapirs
  • Promoting sustainable harvest of wildlife by rural hunters.
  • Reducing habitat destruction through managed agro-forestry projects.

Protected reserves do exist for the Lowland Tapir, however they are sparse in some countries.   Reserves that are close to human settlements do suffer from poaching, especially in remote areas when there is direct economic benefit for hunters.  If hunting continues at current levels, the local extinction of the Lowland Tapirs will become a certainty.

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