Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo Library

The Tapir may resemble an elephant or an anteater with that nose (called a proboscis), but they are actually cousins of horses and rhinoceroses. There are four different species of Tapir living today, and each of them uses their long nose, which includes their upper lip, to help them forage for food and strip branches of tasty leaves. That big proboscis is also specialized to help tapirs detect pheromones or scent markings from other tapirs that may be in the area.

Pictured above is the Malayan Tapir, which lives scattered throughout Malaya and Sumatra. The Malayan Tapir is the largest, at up to 800 pounds, and the only species with the distinctive white band. The Baird’s Tapir is distributed scarcely throughout Central America, is brown, and can be identified by the cream colored markings on their cheeks, throat and chest. The Lowland Tapir can be found in most South American rain forests, and are the most common of the four species. The Lowland Tapir is brown, and has a unique crest of fur along the back of the neck, somewhat resembling raised hackles. The Mountain Tapir is small, and is found at high elevations in the Andes. The Mountain Tapir is often called the Woolly Tapir, and sports a thick, shaggy coat of reddish-brown. All baby Tapirs are a rusty brown color, with cream colored stripes and spots for camouflage.

All Tapirs prefer moist, tropical habitats that have access to water, where they will often swim and wallow in mud. Tapirs have been observed to dive to forage for food and walk along the bottom of a body of water like a hippopotamus, and will even sleep in shallow water during the night.

Tapirs range from 400 to 800 pounds, and stand between 2 to 3 feet tall. Tapirs have four toes on their front feet and three toes on their back feet, and each toe ends in a long hoof. All species of tapir are strictly herbivorous and can live to be thirty years of age. Tapirs communicate vocally in high-pitched whistles and chirps.

Tapirs often use the same paths every day, eventually forming tunnel-like passages that will lead to water and food. These tunnels see the most traffic during dawn and dusk, which is when tapirs are most active.

Tapirs are infamous at zoos for one very special talent; they are urinary marksmen! Tapirs spray their urine behind them, and their very accurate range can extend up to fifteen feet! For an idea of just how well and how far tapirs can spray, take a look at this video.


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