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Malayan Tapir Calf
Credit: Craig Lymm (cml.1674 on fllickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Malayan Tapir Calf and MumCraig Lymm on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 GenericThis week, a gorgeous photo by Jeff Corwin of a Malayan Tapir (Tay-purr) calf showed up in my Facebook stream. Someone pointed out it looks like a cross between an elephant and zebra and I agree. 

Yet the tapir's closest relatives are the rhinoceros and the horse, since they have an odd number of toes (four toes on their front feet and three toes on their back feet). 

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus) is endangered.

The primary reasons for their decline are:

  • loss of their natural habitat in southeast Asia (tropical rainforest)
  • human encroachment (including agriculture and cattle farming)
  • increase in illegal logging
  • rise in rubber and palm oil plantations
  • flooding caused by hydroelectric undertakings

Since fragmented areas of their forested habitat remain, genetic exchange has also been limited. And sadly, Malayan tapirs are increasingly being hunted.

Saint-Aignan (Loir-et-Cher) Tapir
Credit: Daniel Jolivet on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Why Are Tapirs Hunted?

Malayan TapirPhalinn Ooi on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericBecause other larger species in the region are in decline (which is reminiscent of why we are losing giraffes).

And even though tapir meat is not considered popular or tasty, it is being sold and consumed locally.

It is illegal to hunt tapir for sport in every region I researched, but the problem appears to be largely unenforceable.

And according to Woodland Park Zoo, their tough, thick skin is used to make bridles and whips.

I also found out that sandals are made out of tapir hide in some areas of the world.

It's worth mentioning that tapirs have been shot accidentally, mistaken for other wild animals in Malaysia. And sometimes, they've been snared in traps set out for wild pigs.

Live animals are illegally traded. But the tribes where tapirs are found did not traditionally hunt for them as this was thought to bring bad luck.

Yet, according to the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group, in the early '90s a young tapir could be sold for $5500 USD by Thai wildlife export companies (Rabinowitz 1991). Unfortunately, I could not find a reliable source for a more recent value estimation of a live tapir.

Fascinating Tapir Facts

Tapirus indicuslarsjuh on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericAccording to the San Diego Zoo, tapirs are the world's most primitive large mammals.

They have existed for about 20 million years and their fossils (largely unchanged) have been found on every continent except Antarctica.

Tapirs even roamed Southern California about 10,000 years ago.

Unfortunately, the distribution of the Malayan tapir has become fragmented and sparse in areas along Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia and the Indo-Chinese peninsula to Malaya and Sumatra (western Indonesia).

P'som-sett is the Thai name for tapir which means "mixture is finished." In Thailand, it was believed that tapirs were created from the leftover parts of other animals. Their only natural enemy is the tiger.

Tapirokano on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericTapirs are good swimmers and their nose (called proboscis) acts like a snorkel. It can move in all directions and it helps them reach foliage in the water and on land. Their sense of smell and hearing is excellent.

I was surprised to learn that tapirs can also climb incredibly well. Even in the rain, they can navigate their way up steep, rocky slopes. 

If you noticed, tapirs appear to have bluish eyes, but their irises are brown. I found out that their corneas are cloudy and therefore appear blue. Repeated exposure to light is thought to be the cause, yet I've seen this bluish tinge in the eyes of tapirs that are only a few months old. I wonder if they are genetically predisposed to this condition.

Tapirs are herbivores and eat primarily aquatic vegetation and the leaves, buds, twigs and fruits of low growing plants.

Tapirs are Good Swimmers and Eat Aquatic Plants

Miami Metro Zoo
Credit: osseous on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

The Good News

Tapirs live about 30 years either in the wild or in captivity. And there has been great breeding success at Port Lympne Reserve where eleven Malayan tapir calves have been born since 1989.

Malayan Tapir CalfCraig Lymm on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 GenericIt's believed that only 1,500 to 2,000 Malayan tapirs exist in the world. And their gestation period is long at 13 to 13.5 months.

Tapirs only give birth to one calf every two years, on average. Occasionally, twins have been born though. 

For a wild animal, their rate of reproduction is relatively slow.

Of the four species of tapir, the Malayan tapir (aka Asian tapir) is the largest. 

When I first visited a baby tapir at the Toronto Zoo, I was surprised at how high-pitched its squeal was. It joyfully skipped about, reminded me of a happy little piglet.

Up next, enjoy some heartwarming YouTube footage of tapir calves.

Denver Zoo Malayan Tapir Baku Explores Yard

Published on June 6th, 2014 by the Denver Zoo

Only Two Days Old! A Tapir Calf at the Palm Beach Zoo

Published on February 19th, 2014 by Palm Beach Zoo

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