9 facts you should know about tapirs

Discover amazing facts about this unusual looking mammal. 

9 facts you should know about tapirs


1. Species

There are four extant (living) species of tapir, three of which are found in Central and South America, and the fourth is found in Southeast Asia. 

In 2013, a new species of tapir was announced, the Kabomani tapir (T.kabomani). However, there is discussion amongst taxonomists as to whether it is a fifth species or misidentification of a juvenile lowland tapir.


2. Related species

Tapirs belong to the order Perissodactyla, which are the odd-toed ungulates. This taxon group also includes equids (such as horses and zebras) and rhinos.


3. How to avoid predators

A swimming lowland tapir in captivity © Andres Tapia, TSG 

Tapirs will often run into the water to escape from predators, and some species will also only poop in the water to avoid their scent being detected.


4.  Surprising swimmers

A swimming tapir in Brazil © Paolo Andre Lima Borges

Tapirs are fast swimmers and will often use their trunk like snouts as a snorkel when diving deeper, closing their nostrils to avoid water getting in, however they mostly swim with their heads out of the water. They use a doggy paddle stroke or use the bottom of the lake to propel themselves along.


5. Diet

A tapir's diet consists of fruit, berries and leaves in the wild, and they spend their waking hours foraging. 


6. Camouflage

A Malayan tapir in captivity © Pixabay / Creative Commons


The Malayan tapir is the only extant species found in Asia, and is distinctively black and white which helps to break up its shape in the forest.


7. Stripy babies

A baby Baird's tapir in captivity © Charles Foerster, TSG

Baby tapirs are born covered in black, yellow and white strips and spots, which serves as camouflage against predation during these vulnerable first few months. 

These slowly fade and are completely gone within five to six months. Tapir calves stay with their mothers for up to 18 months. 


8. A long gestation 

Tapirs are pregnant for around 13 months, and give birth to only one calf at a time. A healthy female tapir can reproduce every two years. 


9. Endangered

A male lowland tapir in Argentina © Gilia Angell, TSG

On the IUCN Red List, three of the four species are listed as Endangered, and the other is listed as Vulnerable. 

Malayan tapir (T.indicus) - Endangered

Mountain tapir (T.pinchaque) - Endangered

Baird's tapir (T.bairdii) - Endangered

Lowland tapir (T.terrestris) - Vulnerable


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