Malayan Tapir

By Erik Iverson

Scientific Name: Tapirus indicus

Where in the World?
Southeast Asia: Malaysia and Indonesia

How Big?
1.8 to 2.4 m (6-8 ft)
250-320 kg (550-700 lbs)

What Does It Eat?
Shoots and Leaves

How Many?
3,000 left in the wild (Endangered).

This strange animal confuses many people. It looks like a combination of a pig and an elephant, but it is actually an animal called the Tapir (tay-per). Tapirs are most closely related to horses and rhinos, not pigs or elephants.

Malayan Tapir. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
There are 4 species of Tapir in the world. Three of them live in South and Central America. The Malayan Tapir, the 4th species, is the only one which lives in Asia. Malayan Tapirs live deep within the rainforest. They live alone, unless it is a mother with her baby. Tapir moms only have one baby, which is brown with white spots. This helps it stay camouflaged in the thick rainforest. Scientists think that the black and white color of adult tapirs breaks up their shape—they look more like random objects or rocks than tapirs if they are lying down in the dark.

All tapirs are herbivores (eat only plants). They spend most of their time foraging for food. They use their big, long nose, called a proboscis, to tear leaves off of branches. Tapirs mark their territory with urine, and all tapirs can smell markings to tell what other tapirs are around. Malayan tapirs are crepuscular (creh-puh-skyew-ler), which means they are active at dawn and dusk. In the middle of the day and the middle of the night, they sleep. Malayan tapirs can swim well, and they often live near water. They use water to escape from predators. Some species of tapir will only poop in the water. This is so predators cannot find smell their poop and find the tapirs.

Malayan tapirs have few predators. Only tigers and Asian wild dogs, called dholes, present a threat to them. Their greatest predators are humans, who sometimes capture them for sale or kill them. Humans also threaten tapirs by destroying their habitat. In Indonesia, rainforest is being destroyed incredibly quickly. Humans use the land to grow crops, eliminating homes for tapirs and other wildlife. The Malayan tapir is an Endangered Species, and scientists estimate there are as few as 3,000 left. Mountain tapirs from the Andes Mountains of South America and Baird’s tapirs from Central America are also Endangered, and the Brazilian tapir is Vulnerable.


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