This page contains tapir facts and information, and is part of our rainforest animals series.
Tapirs are rather strange-looking rainforest mammals. They look a bit like long-legged pigs, with big, barrel-shaped bodies.
The first thing you’ll notice about a tapir is its nose: it’s more like a mini-trunk! Tapirs use their noses to root around the rainforest floor to find food.
Read on for more information about this awesome mammal, then find out the top ten tapir facts at the end of the article.
What Does A Tapir Look Like?
Tapirs are short, powerful creatures, growing between 2.5 and 3 feet (0.8 – 1m) tall.
Tapirs have long bodies, ranging from 4.2 to 8 feet (1.3 – 2.4m) in length.
Tapirs weigh (depending on the species) from 240 to 700 pounds (110 to 320kg).
All tapirs have hooved toes, short tails, and largish ears with white tips.
Tapirs are faster than they look, and with tough skin and a powerful bite, are a match for all but the most determined rainforest predators.
The Tapir’s Trunk
The tapir’s most prominent feature is its mini-trunk. The tapir uses this small, gripping trunk like an extra hand: locating and bringing food to the animal’s mouth.
The trunk is a combination of the tapir’s nose and upper lip.
Watch the video below to see how a tapir uses its trunk to search for food. You’ll also hear what a tapir sounds like!
Although it may seem unlikely from its pig-like appearance, some of the tapir’s closest animal relations are horses and rhinos. All are in the ‘odd-toed ungulate’ order.
(An order is a group of animals with similar characteristics.)
Although tapirs have four toes on their front feet, they do have an odd number of toes (three) on their hind feet.
They also have the same kind of digestive system as the other animals in the odd-toed ungulate order.
Tapir Facts: The 5 Tapir Species
There are five species of tapir, four of which are found in South and Central America. The Malayan tapir is found in Asian rainforests.
1. The Baird’s, or Central American, tapir has a mostly dark reddish brown / black coloured coat.
Baird’s tapirs live in the rainforests of Mexico, and in some other Central American countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador and Belize.
They are the largest land mammal in Central America.
2. The lowland, or Brazilian, tapir has a dark brown coat and a short mane running down its back. Lowland tapirs live in the Amazon Rainforest and in other South American regions.
3. The mountain, or wooly, tapir lives in mountainous regions of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
The second smallest species of tapir, it has a long, dense coat to keep it warm in the cold mountain forests. It is also recognisable by its white lips.
It is the only species of tapir that lives outside of the rainforest.
4. The Kabomani tapir has only recently been recognised as a separate species. The smallest of all the tapirs, the Kabomani tapir lives in the forests of the southwest Amazon region.
Kabomani means ‘tapir’ in the local language.
The kabomani tapir is a darker colour than the lowland tapir, which is found in the same region.
5. The Malayan tapir has very distinctive black and white markings: its front half is black and its back half is white. This helps the animal to blend into the sunlight and shadows and hide from tigers.
It is the only tapir to be found in Asia. The Malayan tapir lives in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Tapirs And Water
Tapirs usually live near water, and are often found walking or swimming in rivers and lakes.
Tapirs are surprisingly nimble and can easily climb up and down slippery river banks.
Tapirs enter the water to bathe, cool down, find food and to evade predators.
The tapir’s flexible snout is useful for more than just gathering food: it can also be used as a snorkel when the animal is swimming.
Tapir Predators & Defensive Tactics
Tapirs do not have many natural predators, but can be targetted by caimans, jaguars and anacondas.
When a tapir is frightened it often runs straight through the forest or underbrush, knocking aside big branches to make an escape route which the predator will have trouble following.
Another tapir defence is to run straight for water. Tapirs can stay underwater for several minutes using their trunks as snorkels. This allows them to evade most predators.
Tapirs And The Rainforest Ecosystem
Like most of the larger rainforest animals, tapirs live on the forest floor, the lowest of the rainforest layers.
Tapirs eat leaves, fruit and berries that they find here, and deposit seeds in their waste.
This helps the plants to grow in new places. The waste also helps fertilise the plants, so tapirs help new rainforests to grow in more ways than one!
The presence of tapirs is an indication of a healthy rainforest ecosystem. Tapirs feel the effects of humans before other rainforest animals, being large and slow to reproduce. If there are tapirs in a forest, it is a good sign that the forest is healthy!
However, if the tapirs have disappeared, then the natural balance of the rainforest may have been disrupted.
Adult female tapirs will only have one baby every 2 to 3 years. Pregnancies last just over a year and when the baby tapir (called a calf) is born it can stand and walk almost immediately. This enables the calf to evade predators.
Calves are also camouflaged with white spots on their backs.
Mother tapirs are fiercely protective of their calves and will run at and bite animals they see as a potential threat.
Tapirs reach full size after around 18 months.
The Malayan, Baird’s, and mountain tapir are all rated ‘Endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
The lowland tapir is rated ‘Vulnerable’. (The Kabomani tapir not yet been rated.)
As with most endangered rainforest species, habitat loss due to de-forestation is the major factor.
Top Ten Tapir Facts
- Tapirs are mostly nocturnal.
- The tapir’s closest relations are horses and rhinoceros.
- Tapirs have short, dense bodies and can be very heavy: 240 – 700 pounds (110 – 320kg).
- The tapir’s trunk is a combination of its nose and upper lip, and is a flexible, gripping ‘extra hand’.
- Tapirs are big animals, and strong enough to deter all but the largest predators.
- Potential threats come from jaguars, caimans and anacondas.
- Tapirs can stay under water for several minutes using their trunk as a snorkel.
- Tapirs are experts at dispersing the seeds from the fruits and vegetables that they eat which helps new plants and trees to grow.
- A baby tapir is called a calf and can walk almost immediately after being born.
- Mother tapirs are fiercely protective of their calves and will run at and bite predators.
- The Malayan, Baird’s, and mountain tapir are all endangered, and the lowland tapir is rated ‘Vulnerable’.
- Draw a picture of a tapir swimming and maybe using its snout as a snorkel!
- Write a short story about discovering a new animal like a tapir. What does it look like? What does it eat? Which part of the rainforest does it live in?
- Support World Tapir Day, which occurs each year on 27th April
Tapir Facts Conclusion
We hope that you have enjoyed learning all about tapirs. We hope you’ll agree that these strange-looking creatures are actually rather awesome! You can learn about other rainforest animals here: List Of Rainforest Animals.