Tapiridae: Tapir Family

The four living species of these animals are thought to resemble the ancestors of the perissodactyls. Short, bristly hair covers the body giving it a smooth appearance. The snout and upper lip are elongated into a short, mobile trunk. Tapirs are mainly nocturnal forest-dwellers and feed on vegetation.

Baird's Tapir

Size: 180 - 250 cm (71 - 98 in); 140 - 310 kg (330 - 660 lbs). Height at shoulder 75 - 120 cm (29.5 - 47 in).

This species has a range to the north of the more common Brazilian tapir, occurring from southern Mexico to northern Colombia and Ecuador. Baird's tapirs live in wetland habitats such as swamps and along the banks of streams. These nocturnal animals spend most of their time on solid ground, but take to the water to escape unwanted attention. The barrel-shaped body and short legs make them well-suited to running through thick undergrowth. Baird's tapirs forage with their long, flexible snout close to the ground to sniff out food such as twigs, shoots, leaves, fruits and seeds. Edible objects are picked up by the snout and transferred to the mouth.

Brazilian Tapir

They also known as South American tapirs, spend the day in forests of dense vegetation. They prefer to spend part of the night in water or mud. When on land, they walk with their snouts close to the ground.

They are fairly aggressive towards one another at chance meetings. Brazilian tapirs breed all year round.

Tapirs have rounded bodies that are wider at the back than at the front. This helps them charge through thick vegetation when in danger. They have short hairs on their bodies and narrow manes on their necks. Their noses are long and flexible. Young tapirs have red fur patterned with yellow and white stripes.

Distribution: From Colombia to northern Argentina.

Habitat: Woodland or dense grassy habitats near water.

Food: Water plants, fruit, buds.

Size: 1.8 - 2.5 m (6 - 8.25 ft); 175 - 325 kg (386 - 716 lb). Height at shoulder 75 - 120 cm (29.5 - 47 in).

Maturity: 3.5 - 4.5 years.

Breeding: 1 or 2 young born at start of rainy season.

Life span: 35 years.

Status: Lower risk.

Malayan Tapir

These tapirs are usually occurring close to water. They are hard to observe, being shy as well as nocturnal by nature. The Malayan tapir has a unique grayish-black and white coloration. Its trunk is longer and stronger than those of the tapirs from S. America.

The Malayan tapir appears to follow the same paths within its territory regularly. It can negotiate steep mountain tracks without difficulty, and tends to move further into such terrain during the wet season. These tapirs can swim well, and their footprints have shown that there are particular points where they wade into a river. They frequently wallow in water and will feed on aquatic vegetation. If frightened, they can run off quickly, being vulnerable to attacks by big cats.

The young tapir is camouflaged with stripes and spots, which disappear at about 6 to 8 months. Malayan tapirs have been badly affected by the destruction of large areas of forest and are now extremely rare.

Distribution: Southeast Asia, occurring in Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia and Laos. Also present in southern and central parts of Sumatra.

Habitat: Humid, swampy forest.

Weight: 250 - 300 kg (550 - 660 lb); males are bigger.

Length: 1.9-2.5m (6.2 - 8.2 ft); up to 105 cm (42 in) tall at the shoulder.

Maturity: 2.5 - 3.5 years.

Gestation Period: 390 - 400 days; young have a mainly brown coat.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at 5.5 - 7.5 months.

Diet: Grazes on grasses, aquatic plants, twigs and leaves; also eats fruit.

Lifespan: Up to 30 years.


The long, prehensile nose allows the tapir to pluck its food as required.


The tail is very short and curls round the rump.


Nails are present higher up the legs on either side of the hooves.


The coat is a distinctive black and white pattern.

Meeting up

Tapirs tend to be solitary by nature, but recent research has revealed they may be more social than was once thought.


These tapirs can use their height, combined with their primitive trunk-like nose, to browse on branches.