Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tapirs - Not Your Average Ungulates

Though they are similar in appearance to pigs, tapirs are actually most closely related to rhinoceroses and horses. There are four living tapir species, all with similar trunk-like prehensile snouts that are capable of gripping items. The Baird’s, Mountain, and Brazilian tapir are all native to South or Central America; the Malayan tapir is only found in Thailand and Sumatra.
Baird's tapir - Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen
Tapirs are the largest land mammals in South America and can weigh more than 800lbs. They live mainly in forests, and all except the Mountain tapir usually live close to water. Despite their bulky builds, tapirs are excellent swimmers and spend much of their time in the water cooling off, feeding or hiding from predators.

Tapirs are foragers and eat a large variety of terrestrial and aquatic plants, fruits and berries. Their extended snouts can be used to strip plants and pluck certain berries. When on land the majority of this feeding is done on well-worn forest trails, usually leading to a water source.
Malayan tapir - Photo by Sasha Kopf
Tapirs are very solitary animals; other than when mating or rearing young they will spend most of their lives in complete isolation. Tapirs can begin reproducing at 3-5 years of age, but with a gestation time of up to 400 days, reproduction only occurs every two years or so. However, tapirs are fairly long-lived, and even in the wild can live over 30 years.
Baby tapirs are covered in spots and stripes.
Due to their imposing size, tapirs have few predators. Big cats such as tigers and leopards have been known to hunt them, but this is rare. Other occasional predators include American crocodiles and anacondas.

Due to hunting and habitat loss, all species of tapir are currently considered vulnerable or endangered.

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