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Baird’s Tapir

AKA Central American Tapir

Order Perissodactyla - Odd toed ungulates (horses, rhinos, tapirs)
Family Tapiridae—tapirs

Scientific Name:  Tapirus bairdii


Baird's tapirDescriptionBaird’s Tapirs are the largest tapir of the New World with a head and body length of 6-8 ft.  Height at the shoulder is 2-4 feet.  Males may be somewhat smaller than females.  Short, bristly hairs are scattered over thick, leathery skin, and this species of tapir has a short mane that is not always noticeable.  The general body shape is rounded in back and tapering in the front (torpedo shape).  The snout and upper lips form a prehensile proboscis with the nostrils on the end of this snout.  The eyes are small and flush with the head while the ears are oval, erect and not very mobile.  The legs are slender and each foot has three functional toes; in addition, the forefeet have a
fourth toe that is only functional on soft ground.  Adult Baird’s tapirs are dark brown to reddish black above, but lighter below, while juveniles have a distinctive yellow-white stripe and spot pattern that gives them the appearance of a watermelon.

RangeHome Range:  Southern Mexico to Colombia and Ecuador west of the Andes.


Habitat Type:  Any wooded or grassy tropical habitat that has a
permanent supply of water.  They frequently shelter in thickets or
under water by day and emerge at night to feed in grassy or shrubby areas.


Reproduction:  Females become sexually active at 3-4 years of age (though some under 2 years have given birth) and usually produce one (rarely two) calf every second year.  Tapirs will breed throughout the year, frequently at the onset of the rainy season.  Except for females with young, tapirs are solitary animals but will communicate with other tapirs during breeding and before copulation with wheezing sounds, whistles, and by spraying large amounts of urine.  After a gestation of 390 –400 days, the baby is born and will remain with the mother for up to a year.  The distinctive watermelon pattern is lost by 8 months.  The young nurse from a single pair of mammae near the groin.  Mothers often lie down to nurse. 


Diet in Wild:  Leaves, sprouts, aquatic vegetation, fruit, small branches and grass.


Diet in ZooAlfalfa, lettuce, carrots, oranges, apples, ADF pellets, and clovite (supplement for hooves), plus grass and leaves growing naturally in the yard.


General Info:  Though tapirs are shy and docile, they will inflict serious bite wounds if they feel threatened.  They follow well-worn paths through the jungle to permanent water supplies; in fact, engineers followed these paths when building early rainforest roads.  Tapirs generally stay along their paths, but they will crash off into the jungle when frightened or to dislodge a predator.  They are often mistaken for a large pig; however, tapirs are most closely related to rhinoceroses and horses. 

Tapirs are superbly adapted to their rainforest habitat.  Like some other forest animals, the tapir has sacrificed good vision for a keen sense of hearing and smell.  Their torpedo shaped body is excellent for moving quickly through dense vegetation, and their snout works well to strip leaves and bark from trees and shrubs.  They are extremely agile swimmers, climbers and jumpers, and the splayed toes are ideal for supporting the tapir in soft mud.  The position of their eyes, ears, and nostrils allows them to submerge most of their body under water to seek relief from predators, insects, and heat.  They are most vulnerable to jaguars when they emerge from the water at night. 


Conservation Status:  Though some Indian tribes protect tapirs for religious reasons, tapirs are hunted for their low-quality meat and for sport in many parts of their range.  In addition, the Baird’s tapir is endangered due to the loss of its rainforest habitat, and has more than likely been pushed completely out of Mexico.  The Baird’s tapir is listed in CITES Appendix I, meaning commercial trade is not allowed except in rare situations, and IUCN Red List as Endangered.


Predators:  Mainly jaguars.



Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. Mammals IV. 1972. Dr. H. C. Bernhard Grzimek.  Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, NY. pp. 17-30.

Walkers Mammals of the World Vol II. 1999. Ronald M. Nowak. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD. pp. 1025-1028.