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Tapir Facts

Size 40-96 inches (100-243 cm)
Speed Up to 30 mph (48 km/h)
Weight 240-700 pounds (110-320 kg)
Lifespan 20-25 years
Food Plants, leaves, fruits
Predators Cougars, jaguars, tigers,bears, crocodiles
Habitat Mexico, Central America, South America, Asia
Order Odd-toed ungulates
Family Tapiridae
Scientific name Tapiridae
Characteristics Long and flexible proboscis (trunk)

Main Characteristics

Tapirs are medium-sized ungulates. Their most striking feature is their long “trunk” - an elongated nose. Although they look similar to pigs and anteaters, they're not related to them. Their closest relatives are horses and rhinos.

Malayan Tapir Malayan Tapir - Photo: SR7 Photo/


There are four species:


  • Malayan tapir (Asia)
  • Baird's tapir (Central America)
  • Mountain tapir (South America)
  • South American tapir (South America)

• Malayan Tapir

The Malayan tapir is only found in Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia. It is different from all the others: While its head and legs are black, it has a light-colored patch on its back that looks like a saddle or a blanket. That's why it is called “Schabrackentapir“ in German (deriving from the Turkish word “çaprak“ for “saddle cloth“). Its natural enemy is the tiger.

Malayan Tapir Malayan Tapir - Photo: NancyS/Shutterstock

• Baird's Tapir

The Central American tapir is the largest in South America. It is found in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama. It is the national animal of the country of Belize and even has its own national holiday. It is also called "macho de monte" (mountain cow).

Baird's Tapir Baird's Tapir - Photo: Mark Kostich/

• Mountain Tapir

The mountain tapir is the only one that lives in the mountains: the Andes in South America. It has a thick coat that keeps it warm in the cold mountain climate. It is the smallest of all.


Mountain Tapir Mountain Tapir - Photo: Ammit Jack/Shutterstock

• South American Tapir

The South American tapir is common in Venezuela, Colombia, Guyana, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. Its habitat is the tropical rainforest in the Amazon region.

South American Tapir South American Tapir - Photo: Charles J. Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Related Animal Species

Is the tapir related to the okapi? Or is it a type of anteater? Maybe a coati? Or an elephant? Let's start from the beginning. The okapi is a giraffe and the only thing it has in common with the tapir is that both are ungulates. The anteater looks very similar because it also has a long nose and a massive body. But it is a xenartrhan (like sloths and armadillos). The coati has a long nose, too. However, it is a predator and closely related to the martens. Although the tapir's trunk is almost as flexible and versatile as the elephant's, it is not related to it either. The tapir is most closely related to horses and rhinos.

Tapir - Related Animal Species Tapir - Related Animal Species - Photo: Mark Kostich (Tapir)/, Kwadrat (Horse)/Shutterstock, Silke (Nashorn)/, andreanita (Elephant)/, MarclSchauer (Okapi)/Shutterstock, (Anteater), Christian Musat (Coati)/Shutterstock

Distribution and Habitat

There are four species of tapir. Three of them live in Central and South America. There is also one in Southeast Asia, the Malayan tapir. The animals natural habitat is tropical rainforest. They always stay near the water, as they love to spend much time in it. They can be found at a wide range of altitudes, from sea level up to 14,000 feet (4,500 meters).

Life Style

Tapirs are nocturnal solitary creatures. When members of their species invade their territory, they defend it by fighting them by using their large canines.

Anatomy and Appearance

Size and Weight

The largest and heaviest tapir is the Malayan tapir. It has a length of up to 96 inches (243 cm). The smallest is the mountain tapir. It grows up to 72 inches (182 cm) long.


The tapir's nose and upper lip are fused together to form a flexible, prehensile snout, similar to that of an elephant.


Tapirs have brown to gray fur. Except for the Malayan tapir. It has black and white coat. Juveniles have white spots or stripes.

Tapir Characteristics Tapir Characteristics - Photo: Andrea Izotti/


Prehensile Trunk

The trunk is a very handy tool. The tapir grasps branches and plucks delicious leaves and fruits with it. When it senses danger or fear, it quickly escapes and takes refuge in the water. All that remains visible is its trunk, which it cleverly uses as a snorkel.


What kind of noises does a tapir make? Imagine yourself ranging through the tropical jungle when you suddenly hear the screeching noise of car brakes. You ask yourself: Where does this come from? Is there a road in the deepest jungle? No, it’s a tapir! The animals use high whistling sounds to “talk“ to each other. When feeling threatened, they display readiness to defend themselves by snorting, stamping the ground with their feet.

Senses and Abilities


Can tapirs swim? Yes. Despite their clumsy physique, tapirs feel most comfortable in the water. They love to spend a lot of time in it. They go into the water to cool off or to dive for tasty aquatic plants. The babies are able to swim a few days after being born.

Tapir Photo: Dagmara Ksandrova/Shutterstock

Life Expectancy

In the wild, tapirs live 25-30 years. Kingut, a male Malayan tapir, was kept in captivity and lived to be 42 years old.

Enemies and Threats

Natural Enemies

The natural enemies of tapirs are cougars, jaguars, tigers, bears and crocodiles.

Human Impact

Humans are the biggest threat to tapirs because they burn or cut down rainforests, thereby destroying their habitat. The animals are also hunted for their meat. This is why their number has decreased sharply.

Are Tapirs Endangered?

Yes, all tapirs are considered endangered. There are around 4,500 Central American tapirs and around 2,500 Malayan and mountain tapirs left. There are no figures for the South American tapir.

Importance for the Ecosystem

Tapirs are very important for the diversity in the rainforest. They are like “gardeners”. They feed on several hundred species of plants and an enormous variety of fruits. Through their droppings, they spread seeds and thereby plant new trees and bushes.


Tapirs have a long gestation period of 13-14 months. At birth, their babies weigh 11-22 pounds (5-10 kg). They have a dark brown to black coat with light stripes and spots. The pattern helps to camouflage them in tall grass. After a few weeks it gradually disappears. After about 12-18 months, the cub is independent and leaves its mother to go its own way.

Baby Tapir Baby Tapir - Photo: Signature Message/Shutterstock

History and Development

The tapir has been living on earth for millions of years. Since then, it has hardly changed. With the exception of the Antarctic, tapir fossils have been found on all continents of the earth. 10,000 years ago, tapirs even lived in South California.

Fun Facts

In Other Languages

In Indonesia, the word “badak” means both rhinoceros and tapir. In Thailand they call it “P'som-sett”, which means something like “The mix is ready”. This refers to the belief that the animal was created from leftover other animals. However, the name originally comes from the Brazilian Indian language and stands for “chubby” (which refers to the back of the animal).

Road Construction Workers

With their hoofs, tapirs leave distinct traces on soft ground, which often lead to water holes. Sometimes those traces are used for the planning of roads through the mountainous landscape.


The Pokémon Traumato is a tapir.

How Do You Pronunciate Tapir?

The correct pronunciation of tapir is: tay-puh.

The Tapir Is Related To:

Animals in the Same Biome:

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