Distantly related to the horse and rhinoceros, tapirs have lived on earth for about 35 million years. During that time they have hardly changed at all in appearance. There are four species. One of these lives in the forests of Malaysia and Sumatra, the other three in Central and South America. Tapirs once roamed Europe and North America too, but became extinct there long ago.
About the size of a shetland pony, the tapir is a rather odd looking animal. Not only has it a long and flexible snout like a short trunk, but it has four toes on each of its fore feet and only three toes on the hind feet!
Tapirs are shy, inoffensive animals, living in habitats varying from tropical rainforest to deciduous forest, from sea level to heights of at least 3,350 metres. They are found close to water, in marshes, mangrove swamps, lakes and rivers. They are excellent swimmers and are said to be able to dive and walk along the river floor. They also enjoy mud baths, the mud keeping the tapirs cool in the steamy heat of the forest.
Solitary by nature, no more than two or three tapirs are ever seen together. The tapir is a nocturnal animal, spending much of its time feeding on water plants and browsing on twigs, leaves, grasses and fallen fruit. The compact streamlined shape of the tapir's body is ideal for pushing through the dense undergrowth of the forest floor.
The tapirs main natural predators are the big cats, the jaguar in South and Central America and the tiger and leopard in Malaya. A tapir cornered by a big cat can put up a good fight, and often manages to escape if it can get into water. Baird's tapir and the Brazilian tapir both have short, bristly manes stretching along the back of the neck, helping to protect the most vulnerable part of the body from the deadly bite of the jaguar. Bears sometimes prey on Mountain tapirs and caymans (a type of alligator) will attack young tapirs in the water.Read More: Tapir Species