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The Brazilian, South American or Lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) is the smallest species and the heaviest individuals weigh only 400 pounds (180 kg). It is plain brown, often with whitish lips and ear-tips, and grey tones on the throat; different races are predominantly black, brown or grey. The top of the head is flat, the midline of the neck is raised and fleshy, and there is a short stiff mane along it. Newborn young weigh only 9 pounds (4 kg).
Image ©2008 Splash Damage Ltd. Used with permission.
The South American tapir is found throughout the tropical forest and subtropical hardwood forest zones, from Colombia through the Guianas and Brazil into Paraguay and northern Argentina. In the Andes it ascends to about 4,000 ft (1,200 m). It is very similar ecologically to the Malay species, being fond of lowland forest and especially swampy regions. It bathes and wallows a great deal and it walks with its snout close to the ground. The name 'tapir' comes from the Tupi language (Brazilian Indian).
The social life of the South American tapir is unknown. In the San Diego zoo, the captive group forms a structured herd, with dominant and subordinate animals of both sexes. The dominant male and female make what is called the 'sliding squeal', less than a second in duration. On hearing this sound the others make a 'fluctuating squeal', which is longer and quavers rather than merely decreasing in pitch. This is also uttered when a dominant individual approaches, apparently as an appeasement call and as a sign of pain or fear. Tapirs also utter a challenging snort, and a click made with the tongue and palate, perhaps as a species identification.