Tapirs are really interesting animals that look like a pig with a trunk. Many people think that tapirs are anteaters, but they have nothing in common with them. Tapirs are herbivores and are most closely related to horses and rhinos. They have a short prehensile (gripping) trunk, which they use to grab branches and pluck fruit. Their trunk is actually extended nose and upper lip. Tapirs are true ancient animals. According to scientists, they have changed just little over ten millions of years.
There are four species of tapir. Malayan tapir, Mountain tapir, Baird's tapir and Lowland tapir. Tapirs generally live in the forests and grasslands of Central and South America, except the mountain tapir, which lives high in the Andes Mountains. Malayan tapirs, which are the biggest in the world, can be found in the forests and swamps of Malaysia and Sumatra.
The Malayan tapirs have a very distinctive black and white coat pattern. This pattern makes them almost invisible in the moonlight or the shady environment, and also it can make them look like a rock when they are resting on the ground. But tapir babies don’t look like adults at all. They are amazingly cute, looking something like a mixture of a piglet and a fawn. Their striped and dotted coats help them to blend into the surroundings, as they serve as camouflage against predation in the wild.
They have been here for 50 million years
Tapirs are the most primitive large mammals in the world. They are part of an ancient lineage that’s been around since the Eocene and have survived several waves of extinction. The first fossil record of tapirs is found from the Early Oligocene period (65.5 million to 23 million years ago). That's why they are often called Living Fossils.
Tapirs can walk underwater
Tapirs are terrific swimmers. But swimming is not their only wonderful ability. They can also walk underwater on the bottom of a river or a lake. And they do it pretty fast. Tapirs generally love to bathe and swim often. They enter water to cool off, dine on aquatic plants, avoid predators, and also have sex.
Tapirs have amazing snout
Their flexible mini-trunks are prehensile, which means that they can grasp things. Tapirs can pluck tasty leaves and fruits out of the trees with it and also use it as a snorkel when they submerge themselves in a river.
Tapirs are the gardeners of the forest
Tapirs are very important for the forest. They eat fruit in one place, swallow the seeds, walk long distances, and defecate as they move. This way they are dispersing seeds and creating a plant genetic flow between habitats. Tapirs really boost genetic diversity of plants, because they are large. And eating enormous amounts of fruit means distributing an enormous quantity of seeds. One study found that 135 samples of lowland tapir dung contained seeds from an astonishing 122 plant species.
Tapirs have extra-powerful sense
When tapirs curl their upper lips, they’re using an extra-powerful sense somewhere between taste and smell.This weird behavior has a name: it’s called the flehmen response. Giraffes, horses, house cats, and many other animals do it too. The action opens up a pair of ducts in their mouths to send material up into a special sensory body called the vomeronasal organ.
They are night creatures
Specifically, they’re crepuscular. This term refers to dawn and dusk, and in zoology, animals that are most active at those times. During twilight, these mammals will push happily through the dark forest looking for tasty plants.
The Malay, Mountain and Baird's tapirs are listed as Endangered on IUCN's Red List, and the lowland is listed as Vulnerable. Hunting of tapirs for their meat is one of the biggest threats, with habitat fragmentation and habitat encroachment by humans as two other threats, according to Tapir Specialist Group. The biggest threats for tapirs is hunting for their meat and destruction of their habitat by residential and commercial development, large scale deforestation, mining and quarrying. They are also disturbed by human recreational activities.
The last time (11th March 2020) I checked IUCN’s Red List , there were only 2499 mature Malay Tapirs on this planet.
How to help tapirs
Future of these creatures is uncertain. But you can do something about it. Just support those who help tapirs to survive.
https://tapirs.org/ The Tapir Specialist Group is a unit of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.
https://tapirconservation.org.br/ They are promoting the research and conservation of lowland tapirs and their remaining habitats in Brazil.
Read and learn more about how to help tapirs on The Tapir Movement website.