A Living Fossil
These rare mammals are often confused with hippos, pigs or anteaters, but their closest living relatives are actually rhinos and horses. Tapirs are a living fossil; they’be been around since the Eocene, having survived waves of extinction of other animals. They are South America’s largest native land mammal, with adults ranging in size from 300-700 pounds.
A tapir’s most notable feature is its unique prehensile nose. Not only can they wiggle their nose, but they can use it to grab leaves when foraging. When swimming, they can use it as a snorkle! They are fast and agile swimmers. Tapir hides are very tough, and their bodies are streamlined for easy maneuvering in the forest. They have four toes on their front feet and three toes on their hind feet, with which they can run very fast for short bursts of speed through the forest.
Tapirs don’t reproduce rapidly like some mammals; their pregnancies are very long – 13 to 14 months! And they only have one baby per pregnancy. Tapir babies stay with their mothers for twelve to 18 months. Though they are tough, resilient animals who have survived for many millennia, as their populations continue to decline, it is increasingly difficult for them to recover.
Tapirs in Danger
The four tapir species are becoming rare in their habitats, mostly due to habitat destruction (from logging, cattle ranching, etc.) and poaching, and they are designated as either Vulnerable or Endangered as a result.The Malayan tapir is found in southeast Asia, while the other three range from southern Mexico down through much of South America. The most critically endangered is the mountain or Andean tapir, found in the Andean cloud forests of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Similar to Indonesian rainforests, the cloud forests are considered THE most biodiverse regions on the planet and are also among the most seriously at risk.