Commonly Asked Questions About Tapirs
Why are tapirs important?
play a critical role in shaping and maintaining the biological
diversity of tropical ecosystems. The tapir is one of the first
species in its habitat to be adversely affected by human disturbance
because of their size, and because of their sensitivity to
habitat changes. Local extinction or population decrease may trigger
adverse effects in the habitat, causing disruptions of some key ecological
processes (e.g. seed dispersal, nutrient recycling), and eventually
compromising the long-term integrity and biodiversity of the ecosystem.
How are tapirs doing? Where are they particularly
endangered? Where are they doing okay?
Tapirs are becoming rare
in their occurrence areas--the forests of
Central and South America, and Southeast
Asia--mostly due to habitat destruction and
poaching. The IUCN Red Book lists the four
species of tapirs as either vulnerable or
endangered. The Mountain tapir, T. pinchaque,
is one of the most endangered large mammals
in the world. The Baird’s tapir, T.
bairdii, is the largest land mammal
in the Neotropics and also endangered. The
Malayan tapir, T. indicus, is the
only Old World extant species and is also
endangered in Sumatra and mainland Malaysia.
Threats to Tapirs
- Hunting pressure
on tapirs throughout their ranges
- Habitat destruction
into protected park areas by subsistence
farmers and illegal logging
Tapirs do well
where there are few threats impeding
their normal needs to thrive in large
undisturbed tracts of habitat. Certain
areas of the Brazilian Amazon, Brazilian
Pantanal, Peruvian Amazon, Honduran Mosquitia
and Panamanian Darien forests have healthy
How can I help tapirs?
There are many ways to help tapirs, even if you are not old enough
- Write letters to your government officials supporting legislature
that funds conservation in the Neotropics
- Write your favorite international conservation organization asking them
to make tapir conservation a funding priority
- Tell others about tapirs--spread the word about their uniqueness and their status in the wild
- Support tapir research and conservation through Tapir Specialist Group Conservation Fund
- Donate field equipment, or gear to Neotropical researchers
through organizations like IdeaWild
- Travel to tapir range countries and visit
parks where tapirs are known to live; ecotourism to see specific
animals can stimulate a local economy by providing hospitality
and guiding jobs
- Consider studying tapir-specific subject
matter at your university; there are many ecological, biological,
sociological and historical aspects of tapir information that
are not being studied. Ask us for ideas
Where can I see tapirs in the wild?
Any large wild animal will be difficult
to find in the wild. However, there are some parks in the world
where tapirs have not been threatened by hunting or predation and
are less shy than other areas. We recommend you make travel arrangements
through a reputable local agency or guide who specializes in wildlife-watching
tours and eco-sensitive travel. Some
places where tapir sightings are not uncommon:
Chan Chich Lodge property, Belize
Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Morro do Diabo State Park, São Paulo State, Brazil
Southern and Northern Pantanal of Brazil
Parque Nacional El Rey, Salta, Argentina
Amazon River, Brazil
Manu National Park, Peru
Tambopata River and National Preserve, Peru
Taman Nagara National Park, Malaysia
Krau Wildlife Reserve, Malaysia
These tapirs are very difficult to see in the wild--their
low numbers and inaccessible habitat make locating them very difficult, even
for our researchers.
Consider yourself lucky if an animal reveals itself to you while you're enjoying
the beautiful wild setting!
Do tapirs come out at night?
Yes, and in the morning; their activity
levels peak in the hours when temperatures are cooler, primarily
dawn and dusk. This behavior is referred to as "crepuscular."
Tapirs do most of their feeding at night, working their way through
a forest eating fruit, leaves and plants.
Are tapirs nice?
Yes and no. Tapirs are very large, wild animals. Like any large
herbivore (and prey species), they are inherently shy and timid.
In captive or zoo situations, tapirs are usually friendly and
curious, and enjoy having their tummies scratched. However,
they are still large mammals whose behavior can be unpredictable
and they must be treated with care. In the wild, however,
tapirs are most safely observed from a distance. If surprised,
attacked, or taunted they will defend themselves with their
very dangerous teeth. Wild animals have maimed and killed humans
who attack or surprise them.
Are tapirs soft?
Despite the soft curves of a tapir's body,
their hides are very tough. They have tough skin to deflect attacks
by predators, and to withstand the thick vegetation and challenges
of maneuvering through the rain forest. All tapirs except for the
mountain tapir have very short, course hair. Mountain tapirs develop
a much thicker and "woollier"
coat of hair due to their high mountain habitat--they live in a
much colder climate than their more low elevation cousins.
How big are tapirs?
Full grown tapirs are approximately the
size of small ponies or very large hogs (300-700 pounds), but please
see our individual tapir pages for more specific species information.
Do tapirs have hooves like horses?
No. Tapirs have three and four-toed feet. See pictures of tapir feet.
Can tapirs run fast?
Yes, they can run very fast for short bursts
of speed, and maintain a brisk clip running through dense forest.
Their running style and speed is like that of a small pony.
What do tapirs eat in the wild?
Tapirs eat a variety of seasonal fruits
and plants and their home ranges (2-5 kilometers square) reflect
the seasonal food growth patterns of the forest. When mango or
fig trees come into season, tapirs can often be found underneath
these trees, eating the fruits that fall from them, or are dropped
by monkeys munching on fruit from above. Tapirs also eat a lot
of different fruits of palm trees (especially tapirs living in
low lands) and they visit salt licks to complement their
diet. A salt lick is a naturally occurring salt deposit
that animals visit periodically to supplement their diet with minerals
such as sodium, calcium, phosphorus and iron.
What do tapirs eat at the zoo?
Tapirs eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as carrots,
lettuce and apples, and a zoo kibble diet formulated especially
for herbivore ungulates (hoofed mammals).
|Lowland tapir swmming, Parque Nacional
Brasilia, Brazil. Photo by P. Borges
I've heard that tapirs can "run" underwater. Is this true?
Tapirs are fast and agile swimmers--and
use their snout noses as a snorkel sometimes, though most of the
time, they swim with their head out of the water, leading with their
snout. Then they close their flat nostrils when they want to keep
Their swimming motions resemble running or dog-paddling, though
often they are
fully submerged in the water. In shallower bodies of water they
have been known to "run" along the bottom of the lake
to propel themselves between breaths.
How do tapirs escape predators?
Read our article on how tapirs escape
What's involved with studying tapirs in the
Studying tapirs in the wild requires many
resources and a solid scientific question that only study in the
wild can answer. The sort of person attracted to research on tapirs
will need to be intrepid, creative, motivated, and dedicated.
Usually a researcher conducts their research and gathers his or her
data while pursuing a masters or Ph.D degree or if sponsored by a
scientific NGO (such as studies involving population status).
Actual time in the field--the best part about
research--does not make up the bulk of a researcher's time. Often
fundraising, coordinating travel and transportation, hiring and training
field assistants, analyzing data in the lab or at the academic institution
and writing up reports and papers on findings makes up the majority
of a researcher's time. Studying tapirs in the wild is also expensive.
Email us with your questions.
More about tapirs:
TSG's About Tapirs page
Diego Zoo's Tapir page
Illustration kindly provided
by Stephen Nash, Conservation International