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Last updated date: 24th Apr 2024
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What is a Tapir?

Tapir is a large mammal that is similar to pigs and hippos physically. But it has similar features to rhinos and horses. Tapir is the largest native land mammal of South America. The tapirs are also found in Central America. Tapirs are herbivores. 

Let us explore more about the tapir animal. 

The tapir meaning refers to a large land herbivore with large size and distinct physical features. The topper meaning can be understood by exploring the tapir habitat, tapir lifestyle, food, and diet, etc.


There are four different species in Tapir which belong to the same family with the two different genera. They are - 

  • the South American tapir, 

  • the Malayan tapir, 

  • Baird's tapir, and 

  • the mountain tapir. 

Besides these species, the recent studies had stated another species of tapir namely - the kabomani tapir. 

Physical Attributes

In the tapir habitat, the physical attributes and a general appearance may vary for all the species of tapir. But the majority of the species of tapir can grow around 2 m in length. The height of the shoulder for these species is 1 m. Most of the species of tapir habitat are but I'm just between 150 to 300 kgs. All tapirs have short coats on their back and they are in various colors like reddish-brown to gray which nearly appeared as black. But for the Malayan tapirs, a white saddle-shaped marking coat will be there on their back.

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The mountain tapir has long woolly fur. The ears of all tapirs are oval with a white tip. Tapirs have unique toes, four in forefeet and three on hind feet. The toes are splayed and hooved. The tapirs have stubby tails and protruding rumps. These toes help to walk on smooth muddy lands. Along with these toes, another organ called the proboscis helps to move in all directions. It is a flexible organ. Female tapirs have a single pair of mammary glands. Baby tapirs have coats with stripes and spots. Make tapirs have long penises. 

Tapir animals have low crowned teeth with no cementum. There are around 42 - 44 teeth in total. They have chisel-shaped and conical incisors. There is a significant gap between canines and premolars. The eyes of tapirs are brown. For Malayan tapirs, corneal cloudiness is observed when excess light is exposed. 

Life Cycle

The tapir animal lifespan is around 25 to 30 years. In the tablet habitat, the anger tapper animals get sexual maturity from 3 years of age. The female tapirs can mature earlier than the male tapirs. The female tapirs can undergo reproduction every 2 years if favorable conditions are provided. The female tapir can give birth to the end of one after a gestation period of 13 months. The young calf can mature after 2 to 2.5 years. Most of the baby tapirs lead a solitary life. A healthy calf can stand on its own within hours of birth. They start feeding on 5 to 6 hours of birth. They started eating solid food from the third week itself. The baby calves always prefer to be followers. They're not interested in being hiders. The female tapir can look after the baby's cough for 3 months. Even the baby calf can swim with Mom till 3 months.

The male tapirs are monogamous. They mate with a single female tapir. May and June are the peak months for female toper to breed. Both mates can introduce themselves through scent signals and visual cues. Sometimes the mating activity will be done under shallow water. Also, they use wheezing and whistling to communicate with mates. Also biting of the flanks, spraying urine, etc also takes place.

Tapir Habitat and Behavior

Most of the tapirs can be found in tropical and terrestrial lands. As they are herbivores, they prefer to lead their lives in rainforests, jungles, rubber plantations, grasslands, primary forests, secondary forests, cultivated areas, etc. The elevation of tapirs ranges from 0 to 2000m. 

The tapir animal always prefers to lead a solitary life. They also behave distinctly in various situations. Behave from time to the aggressive. Whenever food scarcity occurs, they form into groups and share the food and store the food. In general, they are very soft-going animals. But whenever a predator came to attack them, they became aggressive to defend themselves. They use their paws to defend against the attacks of the predator.

Communication and Lifestyle

Among all the species of tapirs, the Malayan paper uses vocalizations like weasels, clicks, hiccup sounds, etc. They are good at hearing sounds. Also, they can smell from far places. So for mating activity also the user gives scent signals, visual cues, wheezing, whizzing, etc to copulate with the female mate.

The home range for the tapirs is around 10 to 25 km. Females are much more interested in having a larger home range than nails. Also, the density is very less. It ranges between 0.30 to 0.45 per square meter. The female tapirs are good travelers. They can travel around 4 km in a single day.


Though all the species of tapirs are herbivores, the food habits may vary from one species to another. The Malayan tapirs are very strict in choosing the food items. They prefer to select qualitative food items. They have different names like folivores, frugivores, and lignivorous. They select leaves, buds, twigs, herbs, bark, low-growing succulents, shrubs, helical, fruits, grasses, tubers, aquatic plants, etc, and many more. They prey on nearly 122 species of plants in their diet. Irrespective of location, they focus on the food items.

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Another interesting fact about these papers is they move in a zigzag fashion to eat from the plants. They will eat on the first plant and move to another plant and come to this site and go that side like this. They also prefer to take some seeds, fruits which have low fiber. But this takes more time to digest. For digestion purposes, simple stomach mammals use to travel more distances. Based on a survey, the Malayan tapirs take 4% of their body weight as the quantity of food. They mostly consume it for pregnancy, lactation, and the young calves' intake. Proboscis helps the tapirs to pluck the leaves, fruits, thin saplings, etc. If the sapling is thicker they bend and push it.


Besides tapir meaning, it is good to know the meaning of predator, who creates a threat to the organisms. Tigers, leopards are the natural predators of tapirs. They always try to protect themselves and tries to confuse the opponent with black and white saddle shaper stripes. They also prefer to move and hide at the nearby water source to protect themselves from the chase. Along with these two natural predators, humans also act as predators by attacking them through hunting and deforestation.

Deforestation creates a scarcity of food for tapirs as they depend on different species of plants. Also, hunting creates a massive loss of habitat. Even though they are very strong and the largest native animals in South America, they failed to defend themselves in most cases. The International Union of Conservation of Nature declared all the species of tapirs were endangered, excluding the Brazilian tapirs. The Brazilian tapirs are vulnerable.


The tapirs help to maintain sustainability in the ecosystem. Fruits are the major source of food for tapirs. If we observe, they block the fruits, seedlings, leaves, etc, and then swallow them. Some leftovers spit out in distant places. This helps to regrow the new plants which improve vegetative propagation and The greenery around the world. It prevents the scarcity of food for both tapirs as well as mankind. 

Malayan tapirs host several endoparasites, ectoparasites, protozoan enteric parasites, and hemiparasites. 

  • protozoan blood parasites like Babesia, vampire moths. 

  • flagellated protozoans like g. Giardia species; 

  • parasitic unicellular eukaryotes, like trypanosomes; and 

  • parasitic flatworms, such as trematodes 

  • Ticks, such as Amblyomma testudinarium, mites, for Sarcoptes tapir,

  •  ciliate protozoa, refers to g. Balantidium species, 

The tapirs hurt humans. In the southern parts of America, these species fed on watermelon and cucumber crops. They also attack humans. They prefer to strike the rubber plantations in those countries. This results in adverse effects on the human beings living over there.


As a coin has two sides, these herbivore mammals also have both positive impact and negative impacts. Considering the major proportion of positivity, several organizations like the International Union of Conservation of Nature, the United Nations endangered species act, appendix 1 in CITES, etc treat them as endangered species. They stated all the necessary preventive measures for the conservation of these mammals.

Several awareness programs came into practice by the government authorities. Several zoos and organizations came forward to protect them. Especially in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand the people can smuggle body parts and hunt for meat, etc. Now the government has restricted all the rules and punished the predators strictly.


Hence, the tapirs are large and have varied species. They are usually found in Southern and Central parts of America. Their diet includes nearly 122 species of plantations. They can eat leaves, but, twigs, seeds, saplings, fruits, etc. They also select qualitative food items. While selecting the food items, they won't bother about the location. Whenever they face the scarcity of food, they form into groups and share the available food. Usually, they lead solitary lives. Based on the scenario they can change their behavior also. They have threats from tigers, leopards, and human beings. It is always good to conserve wildlife and protect these mammals from predators. Everyone should take this as a responsibility and step forward for conserving the animals.

FAQs on Tapir

1. Are Tapirs Dangerous?

Ans: Generally, tappers are gentle and soft. They won't attack anyone. But the behavior of these mammals was unpredictable. They can behave according to the context. They behave from tame to aggressive. We cannot assure that they may not attack human beings. In the part of defending themselves, they won't bother to attack the opponent. They use their coat, back, and paws to protect themselves. If they find any nearby water source, they simply reach and hide under the water to prevent the attack.

In contrast to this, few cases were kind where the female diapers attacked a child and the caretaker of the zoo while feeding them. So based on this, we cannot conclude that they are dangerous or not. But the proportionality of attacking others is very less. Being attentive is always good.

2. Is Tapir a Pig?

Ans: Due to several similarities in the physical appearances of both the pig and tapir, several people get confused about this. But in fact, the tapir is not a pig. It belongs to the family of horses and rhinoceros. But the body, neck, etc were closely related to the pig and hippo. By observing the scientific classification of tapir, it is easy to understand it. The classification is as follows- 

Family: Tapiridae; Brünnich

Order: Perissodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia

Class: Mammalia

Phylum: Chordata

Tapirs have four different types of species. They are - 

  • the South American tapir, 

  • the Malayan tapir, 

  • Baird's tapir, and 

  • the mountain tapir.

3. What Eats a Malayan Tapir?

Ans: A Malayan tapir was eaten by different animals like tigers and Asian wild dogs. These animals are known as the natural predators of Malayan tapirs. Besides these predators, the greatest predator is human beings. Especially in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, several cases are filed on hunting. This creates a massive loss of habitat. Also, deforestation is a major obstacle for these mammals. As they always depend on seeds, leaves, fruits, twigs, buds, etc. So due to cutting down trees, they are unable to get sufficient food. This leads to the diseases and inactiveness of mammals. Also, they can hide under the water from predators to protect themselves. If trees are cut down, the water sources are also reduced. All these results in a decrease in the population of Malayan tapirs.