20 Remarkable Tapir Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

Let's talk about tapir

It really is a shame that this beloved animal is on the list of endangered species. That is what inspired me to make this post.

There are so many things that you would find interesting in this lofty animal; I mean, have you seen how cute baby tapirs look? They should have made Bambi a tapir!

So without further ado, here are 20 facts about tapir that you should know. Enjoy.

If you love this post, make sure you check out my Roaring Wild Animal Quotes.

1. Why do baby tapirs look different from their parents?

A baby tapir is called a calf, and it looks much different than its mama or papa. Similar to deer (remember Bambi), the young animals have spots and stripes that go away when they reach adulthood. It is, of course, due to the evolution and survival of the fittest and a part of the survival strategy.

It’s helping the babies blend into their surroundings in the forests where most tapirs live and forage. This pattern probably helps obscure their shape in the underbrush, enabling them to hide from predators such as big cats.

RELATED: Do Baby Elephants Have Tusks?

The offspring can stand a couple of hours after birth and weigh 15 to 22 lbs. (7 to 10 kg). They stop growing at 18 months, and at 2 to 4 years of age, calves are ready to mate.

2. Who are tapir’s closest relatives?

Even though tapirs look like wild hogs with snouts, in fact, tapirs are most closely related to horses and rhinos. Other close relatives include animals from the odd-toed ungulates mammals, hoofed animals which bear most of their weight on one (an odd number) of the five toes: the third toe that includes, among others, donkeys and zebras.

The tapirs also have several extinct relatives in the superfamily Tapiroidea.

3. Can tapirs walk underwater?

It has been known for some time that tapirs can walk at great speed on riverbeds, and it has even been caught on film. Do you know who else does this? The hippo. Can you imagine these huge animals doing that?

Tapirs love water. They do almost everything in there, and I do mean everything. Eat plants, avoid predators, or have sex.

RELATED: Do Hippos Live In The Jungle?

A tapir will seek relief from the irritation of parasites by submerging itself in a freshwater stream to let small fish reach the parts, such as the insides of its ears and nose, that it can’t scratch with its feet.

Tapir Infographic
Tapir Infographic

4. When is World Tapir Day?

A number of conservation projects have been started worldwide, and the WTD is there to bring tapirs to the general public’s spotlight at least once per year. Many people are unaware of the Tapir as a species, meaning they are losing a special part of the world without ever knowing they exist.

From the tapirday.org page, “World Tapir Day exists to raise awareness about the species of tapir that inhabit Central and South America and Southeast Asia and to raise funds to purchase land to protect it from human encroachment.”

World Tapir Day is celebrated on the 27th of April each year. You can celebrate it by raising awareness about this majestic animal to others or raise funds for their conservation.

RELATED: Do People Eat Capybaras?

5. Are tapirs endangered?

I touched upon this already, but it is worth underlining again. All four species are on the conservation watch list – the Brazilian tapir is classified as vulnerable, and Baird’s tapir, the mountain tapir, and the Malayan tapir are endangered.

How did this happen? Overhunting for meat and hide and the loss of habitats due to human activity have substantially reduced their numbers.

If we lose tapirs, we are in danger of losing so much more; the loss of the tapir could, in fact, endanger the entire remaining forests.

RELATED: Do Rhinos Put Out Fires? (Or Is It Just A Myth)

6. Why are tapirs called gardeners of the forest?

The tapir’s diet consists of fruit, berries, and leaves, particularly young, tender growth. Tapirs will spend many of their waking hours foraging along well-worn trails, and when they eat fruits and berries in one area and travel to the next, they disperse seeds from the food they ate all over the forest when they poop. This does wonder to the genetic diversity of plants in the woods, which is why they are called gardeners of the woods.

Unintentionally, tapirs help disperse seeds from their favorite fruit trees, which means more fruit for tapirs and other animals.

RELATED: Do Beavers Really Eat Wood?

7. What do tapirs use their nose for?

Their nose is actually a trunk that is formed from their nose and upper lip. It uses this as an extra limb to pick up food, such as leaves, twigs, and fruit, and carry it into its mouth just as an elephant would.

That kind of organ is called prehensile. Prehensility is the quality of an appendage or organ that has adapted for grasping or holding. The word is derived from the Latin term prehendere, meaning “to grasp.”

It’s not just there for showing food in their mouth or good looks, but tapirs can also use it for snorkeling.

RELATED: Beaked Sea Snake, Death From Below?

8. What sounds do tapirs make?

Tapir can make some interesting sounds. The types of sounds that you would not expect to come out when you look at it. Not only can tapirs whistle, but they can squeak, peep, and twit as little birds do.

9. Are tapirs living fossils?

Asian and American tapirs were believed to have diverged around 20 to 30 million years ago and have changed very little to this age. Fossils of tapir ancestors have been found on every continent except Antarctica.

Some other animals that are called living fossils include mountain beaver, okapi, opossums, capybara, red panda, pelican, snapping turtle, purple frog, and many others.

RELATED: Are Platypus Marsupials? (And why does it matter?)

10. How do you pronounce word tapir?

Tapir facts
Tapir facts

There are at least four different pronunciations of the word tapir:

  • /ˈteɪpər/ TAY-pər,
  • /ˈteɪpɪər/ TAY-peer or
  • /təˈpɪər/ tə-PEER,
  • /ˈteɪpiːər/ TAY-pee-ər

There’s no right or wrong pronunciation, actually, as not even the smarter people than us can make up their minds.

The word comes from the indigenous Brazilian language, and it means “thick.” In Indonesia, they call them badak, which they also use for rhinos, and in Thailand, the word for tapir is p’som-sett which means “mixture is finished.”

11. How many species of tapir are there?

There are four living species of tapir. Three of the species are found in Central and South America, while one is located in Asia. They are the:

  • Brazilian tapir,
  • Mountain tapir,
  • Baird’s tapir, and
  • Malayan tapir

There is also a supposed fifth species of tapir called the Kabomani tapir. The existence of the Kabomani tapir has been widely disputed, and recent genetic evidence further suggests it is actually nested within the Brazillian tapir.

Tapir facts
Tapir facts

Related: Top 10 Largest Rodents In The World

12. Who is world’s oldest tapir?

The natural lifespan of a tapir is about 25 to 30 years. Still, there is an outlier – a Malayan tapir called Kingut, officially recognized as the oldest tapir in captivity at the ripe age of 42 years.

He was born at Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 27 January 1978. Back then, he went under the name Huta. He lives at Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve, which is part of conservation charity The Aspinall Foundation located in Kent, UK.

13. How much does a tapir weight?

Tapirs have been observed to eat around 40 kg (85 lb) of vegetation in one day. No wonder that they usually weigh between 150 and 300 kg

. The heaviest tapir on record weighed 540 kg (1,190 lb)!

RELATED: Tuatara – 15 Extremely Surprising Facts

14. How long is a tapir pregnant for?

Tapir mammas carry their young for a long time. Under good conditions, a healthy female tapir can reproduce every two years, and a single young calf is born after a gestation of about 13 months.

15. Can tapirs camouflage?

Yes, Malayan tapir can camouflage. The front half of the tapir’s body and hind legs are black, and the rear half above the legs is white. This black-and-white pattern obscures its outline, helping the tapir to become practically invisible in its shady forest environment.

This disrupted coloration makes it challenging to recognize it as a tapir, and other animals may mistake it for a large rock rather than prey when it is lying down to sleep.

Tapir facts
Tapir facts

16. Do tapirs have a thick skin?

I guess you have to have thick skin when you have a nose like that. Tapirs are designed as a tank, with especially thick skin around the head and neck, which helps them deal with predators.

Adult tapirs are large enough to have few natural predators, and their fat hide will help them fend of jaguars, crocodiles, anacondas, and tigers. Thick skin also helps against pesky mosquitoes, horseflies, and ticks the size of garden peas.

17. Are tapirs herbivores?

Tapirs will spend many of their waking hours foraging with their snouts to the ground in search of food. They are herbivores that eat fruit, berries, and leaves but also twigs, branches, buds, shoots, and aquatic plants.

19. What do tapirs eat?

Tapirs eat various fruits and vegetables in the zoo, such as carrots, lettuce, apples, and bananas, and a zoo kibble diet formulated especially for hoofed mammals. They can eat up to 40 kg (85 lb) of vegetation in one day!

18. Are tapirs blind?

Malayan tapirs have very poor eyesight, so they have to rely mostly on their excellent sense of smell and hearing. According to Wikipedia, they have small, beady eyes with brown irises on either side of their faces.

Their eyes are often covered in a blue haze, which is corneal cloudiness thought to be caused by repetitive exposure to light. Corneal cloudiness is a condition in which the cornea starts to lose its transparency.

The poor tapirs are most active at night, and since they have poor eyesight, it is harder for them to search for food and avoid predators in the dark.

20. Do tapirs have the flehmen response?

Tapirs do exhibit the flehmen response. Flehmen is performed by a wide range of mammals, including domestic cats and horses, but also bison, tigers, lions, giraffes, goats, llamas, kobs, hedgehogs, rhinoceros, giant pandas, antelope, and hippopotami.

It comes from the German verb flehmen – to bare the upper teeth and is a behavior in which an animal curls back its upper lip exposing its front teeth, inhales with the nostrils usually closed, and then often holds this position for several seconds, usually in response to a location, odor or taste.

The flehmen response draws air into the VNO or Jacobson’s organ, an auxiliary olfactory sense organ that is found in many animals.

Related Questions

Are tapirs dangerous?

There have been attacks by tapirs on humans but mainly in zoos. Tapirs are generally mild and shy, but if confronted or scared or trying to protect their young ones, they can defend themselves with their very powerful jaws.

Do people eat tapirs?

Unfortunately, tapirs are being hunted for their meat and their hide. It is one of the reasons that they are on the endangered species list.

Do tapirs eat ants?

Although they resemble an anteater because of their rather long snout, tapirs are herbivores and do not eat ants, at least not intentionally. Their favorite foods are fruit, twigs, berries, branches, and leaves, among others.

Are tapirs and elephants related?

Even if they both have long noses, tapirs and elephants are not close relatives. They are related in the sense that they are both mammals.

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Adrian Volenik

I've lived around animals my whole life and I hold a Diploma in Animal Physiology. When I'm not reading or writing about wild animals, health and fitness, and technology, you can find me playing with my son and two cats. My pastimes include running, playing video games, and solving the NY Times crossword.