Family - Tapiridae


Tapirs are placed in one genus, with four species. Three species live in South America, ranging from Southern Mexico through Central America to Venezuela, and south to Paraguay and Brazil. The fourth species, the Malayan tapir, inhabits the Burma rain forest. These animals like to live in nearly any wooded or grassy habitat with a permanent supply of water. They have also been found on dry deciduous forests and mountain forests. Tapirs are about the size of a donkey. Their body is rounded in back and tapering in front. They have short bristly hairs scattered all over their body.


All South American tapirs are a dark brown or gray in color. Malayan tapirs are black on the hind legs and the entire front of its body while having a creamy white in the midsection. All tapirs have a short, fleshy proboscis formed by the snout and upper lips. Tapir eyes are small and flush with the side of their heads. Ears are oval, erect, and not very mobile. Tapirs are herbivores, sheltering in thickets by day and emerging at night to feed in bordering areas of grasses or shrubs. They eat leaves, buds, twigs and fruits of low-growing terrestrial plants and also consume aquatic vegetation.


They are good swimmers and love splashing in the water and also to roll around in the mud as well. Tapirs are essentially lonely except for females with babies. The earliest records of tapiridaes in the fossil record are from the Early Oligocene. Tapirs were once spread in distribution, presented in North America, Europe, and Asia, until the late Pleistocene. Tapirs have been extensively hunted for food and sport in some areas, although some Indian tribes refuse to kill tapirs for religious reasons. They have been known to damage corn crops and other grains in Central America, although they are not in general considered a pest species. Populations are decreasing because of clearing of forests by humans for agriculture reasons. All species are currently classified by USDI as endangered.

Author: Kandace A.

Published: 10/2008