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.


Tapir Species

The Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus) lives in densely forested areas of south-east Asia, from Burma to Malaysia and Sumatra. It differs from the South American species in its greyish black and white body markings. Seen in a zoo, this tapir's colouring might seem to be rather conspicuous, but in its natural surroundings deep in a humid jungle, the black and white markings help the animal to blend perfectly with its moonlight dappled background. This species spends much of its time in the water and it is an excellent swimmer.

The smallest of the tapirs is the thick-coated Mountain or Woolly tapir (Tapirus pinchaque), which lives in the Andes of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador at altitudes of up to 12,000 ft. They occur in isolated regions of the Andes and their numbers are becoming smaller day by day. Unfortunately, this species has suffered as a result of heavy exploitation of its habitat by humans. It has also been hunted either as a source of food or by those who capture live animals for export to zoos.

The Brazilian or South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris) is nearly always found close to water as, like other tapirs, it is a good swimmer. This blackish-brown species is also fast and sure-footed on land, however, even over the roughest terrain. It is a low land species and lives in marshy forests in parts of Columbia and Venezuela and southward to Brazil and Paraguay. It is the most common of the American tapirs, although it too is suffering from the exploitation of its natural habitat by humans.

The Central American or Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii) is the largest of the three American species and is found throughout Central America from southern Mexico to Columbia, and in parts of Ecuador west of the Andes.

Read More: Breeding

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