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The Endangered Malayan Tapir in Zoos and in the Wild

Updated on July 9, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a science teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.

The Malayan Tapir
The Malayan Tapir | Source

An Intriguing Animal

The Malayan tapir is an unusual and intriguing animal. It has an extensible proboscis that is very mobile and often looks like a small version of an elephant's trunk. Unfortunately, the tapir needs our help. Its population is endangered due to human activity. Destruction of its forest habitat is taking a serious toll on the animal's numbers. Malayan tapirs are found in zoos around the world. It would be very sad if these became the only places where the tapirs existed.

There are five species of tapirs. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), three of these species are endangered and one has a vulnerable population. The fifth species was named in 2013, although the claim that it's a distinct species is controversial. Its population status is unknown.

Four of the tapir species live in Central or South America. One species—the Malayan tapir—lives in Asia. It's found in southern Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In the twentieth century the Malayan tapir was seen in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos as well, but these populations are believed to be extinct.

A Malayan tapir at the Louisville Zoo
A Malayan tapir at the Louisville Zoo | Source

The Five Tapir Species

These are the common names of the five tapir species.

Baird's or Central American tapir

Brazilian or Lowland tapir

Woolly or Mountain tapir

Kabomani tapir (Not all scientists agree that this animal should be classified as a separate species.)

Malayan or Asian tapir

What Are Tapirs?

Tapirs are large, bulky, and herbivorous mammals which live in forests but spend a lot of their time in water. The most noticeable feature of a tapir for many people is the long, mobile, and muscular snout. Technically, the snout is known as a proboscis. It's made of the animal's nose and upper lip. The nostrils are located at the tip of the proboscis.

A tapir's proboscis is extensible. It's also prehensile, which means that it can wrap around objects and grab hold of them. It's used to strips leaves from branches and to pick fruits. The proboscis may remind some people of an elephant's trunk, but tapirs are more closely related to rhinoceroses and horses than to elephants.

Another Malayan tapir in a zoo
Another Malayan tapir in a zoo | Source

Classification

The Malayan tapir is classified in the class Mammalia, the order Perissodactyla, and the family Tapiridae. It's often said to be an odd-toed ungulate, although the word "ungulate" has an imprecise meaning. The tapir is the only ungulate with four toes on the front feet and three on the back.

Camouflage

The Malayan tapir is the largest species of tapir and has the longest probiscis. The animal is also known as the Asian tapir. Its scientific name is Tapirus indicus. The animal has a distinctive black and white pattern on its body. The body is black or dark grey except for a white area on the back and sides of the tapir. This area starts just behind the shoulders and extends to halfway down the rump. Each ear is tipped with white as well.

The tapir is most active at night, although it may be seen during the day as well. It might seem that the dramatic contrast in the tapir's colours would make it easy to see in the wild, but the animal's colouring is actually a type of camouflage. The two tones on the its body help to disguise it as it moves through a forest lit by moonlight and containing shadows. The sharp boundary between the black and white parts of the tapir breaks up its shape at night. The pattern helps to prevent a viewer from seeing the outline of the tapir's body and recognizing that it's an animal. This type of camouflage is known as destructive coloration.

Hooves of a Mayayan tapir
Hooves of a Mayayan tapir | Source

Other Features of the Animal

The tapir's size and weight vary, but males may reach 6 feet in length and 720 pounds in weight. Females are generally heavier than males and may reach 900 pounds or more. An adult tapir is about 42 inches high at the shoulder.

The tapir's body is narrower in the front than in the back. The animal has short legs and a very short tail. There are four toes on each of its front feet and three toes on each of the back feet. The toes are widely separated. Each is covered by a thick layer of keratin, forming a hoof.

The Malayan tapir's bulky appearance and short legs may give the impression that it's a slow and lumbering animal. This impression is very wrong, however. The animal can run fast when necessary. It's also a great swimmer and diver.

Camera Trap Film and Photos of Malayan Tapirs in Thailand

Life in the Wild

The Malayan tapir is generally a solitary animal, except when a female is rearing a calf. It's occasionally seen travelling with an adult companion, however, as shown in the video above. This companion may be a relative. The tapir's preferred habitat is dense forest that has a permanent body of water. It spends most of its time near or in this water.

The animal is strictly herbivorous. It feeds on leaves, young shoots, fruits, and aquatic vegetation. Most of its feeding is done at night or at dawn and dusk. It has small eyes and poor eyesight, but its hearing and sense of smell are excellent. It finds its food by smell.

The tapir creates an intricate network of paths in the forest as it forages for food. Tapirs mark their paths with urine to indicate that they are part of their territory. The stool that they drop contains seeds from the fruits that they've eaten, which enables plants to spread from one area to another.

Adelaide Zoo Celebrates World Tapir Day

Sleep Routine

The Malayan tapir curls up in deep undergrowth during the day to sleep. In this position, its colouration makes it look like a large rock and helps to protect it from an attack. The animal may also take naps during the night.

Escaping From Predators

The tapir has few predators, but it's sometimes attacked by tigers. Its defence mechanisms are its abilities to run, stay underwater for a minute or more, and inflict a serious bite. The animal can run fast and quickly force its way through forest containing thick branches. This type of environment often slows or blocks a tiger's passage. The tapir also has tough skin which acts as a barrier against a predator's teeth.

A Malayan Tapir Calf

Reproduction

Malayan tapirs become sexually mature at around three to four years of age. Males mature a bit later than the females. Mating may occur at any time of year.

The mating ritual begins with a courtship in which the male and female circle together, nip each other's bodies, and make a variety of vocalizations. These vocalizations include whistles, clicks, and snorts. Courtship may be quite a lengthy event. When the time is right, the animals mate.

A single baby is born after a long gestation period of thirteen months. The baby is known as a calf. Twins are born very occasionally. The calf is ready to walk soon after birth, which helps it to avoid predators. Its mother won't breed again for eighteen months to two years.

Tapir calves have a very different coat colour and pattern from the adults. When a calf is standing next to its mother, it often looks as though the baby has been paired with the wrong mother. The infants have a brown coat with white stripes and spots. This dappled appearance helps to camouflage them in the filtered light entering the forest understory.

Saving the Life of a Newborn Malayan Tapir at the Denver Zoo

Juvenile Animals

The juvenile markings of a Malayan tapir calf disappear when the youngster is between four and seven months of age. The age at which the calf leaves its mother to live independently is uncertain and seems to be variable. Some calves leave when they are only eight months old. On the other hand, others stay with their mother for a year or more. The tapir may live for more than thirty years, although a maximum age in the twenties seems to be more common.

Population Status and Conservation

I've wriitten many articles about endangered animals. When I describe why the animal is endangered, the explanation is nearly always the same—human activity. As the human population continues to increase in size, more and more animals and plants will likely become endangered.

The population status of the Malayan tapir and its relatives is worrying. Malayan tapirs are in trouble due to deforestation in their natural habitat. Forest is being destroyed by logging, by clearance of land for agriculture, and by flooding of land due to the creation of dams for hydroelectric projects. These activities are affecting many other types of animals in many parts of the world.

The tapir is also hunted for meat and its tough hide, but deforestation is having a far more serious effect on its population. Predation by tigers is relatively unimportant in reducing the animal's numbers compared to habitat loss and fragmentation. The tapir's low reproductive rate makes it hard for it to recover from a disaster.

Conservationists are working to protect the tapir, but the human desire for new land is a big problem. Zoos are often criticized, but the best ones have at least one useful function. They are sometimes able to breed endangered animals, such as the Malayan tapir. They may also be able to educate the public about the plight of endangered creatures. These functions may become very important in the tapir's future.

A zoo is not the best environment for an animal.  Some zoos perform useful jobs, however, such as breeding Malayan tapirs.
A zoo is not the best environment for an animal. Some zoos perform useful jobs, however, such as breeding Malayan tapirs. | Source

References

Malayan tapir information from Arkive

Tapirus indicus facts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature

Facts about the Malayan tapir from the Denver Zoo

World Tapir Day occurs on April 27th each year. Its goals are to raise public awareness about tapirs and to raise money for their conservation.

The size and needs of the human population are affecting tapirs. The United States Census Bureau website has population clocks which estimate the current world and US population based on previously collected data and trends. The numbers on the clocks are continually increasing, but at the time that this article was last updated, the world population was estimated to be 7,402,636,352 people.

© 2015 Linda Crampton

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I was just about to stop for the day and go mow the lawn. A bit odd for February, but when it's sixty degrees one does that sort of thing. :)

      I'm always interested in hearing about endangered species, and it is so important that writers take the time to raise awareness in articles like this one. I see another HOTD in your future.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, Bill, especially so soon after I published the hub and when you have gardening to do! I don't have to mow my lawn yet, but the crocuses are in bloom, which makes me very happy.

    • traveleze profile image

      Lee John 2 years ago from Preston

      Hi Linda Crampton,

      What a great hub! They look so different!, really enjoyed reading this!

      Thanks

      Lee

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the visit and comment, Lee!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Linda, this is an incredibly detailed and important article. It's unthinkable that so many of the world's animal species are facing extinction due to human over population. I don't like the idea of zoos, but I do see that they may just be the last bastion of hope for some animal species. This is a very emotive and difficult subject but one that we will have to deal with sooner or later. Outstanding article.

    • profile image

      ArtDiva 2 years ago

      It's so sad seeing how mankind with uncontrolled growth taking over the earth, endangering so many other species in the wake. Good for you, as a writer, creating awareness, educating the public. I had never never seen this specific species with the distinctive "camouflage" pattern.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Jo. Thank you so much for the kind and thoughtful comment. I agree with you - the topics of extinction and the keeping of animals in zoos are difficult to deal with, but they are topics that we mustn't ignore.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, ArtDiva. Thank you very much for the comment. I appreciate your visit. The attitude of some humans towards the other inhabitants of Earth is very sad.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      AliciaC, this is another very important hub. I am like you and am so concerned with our changing environment and especially the fate of our animal species like the tapir due to the increasing human population an our ever growing need for more agricultural land and timber products. I have always been intrigued by the tapir and hope beyond hope that none of the five species become extinct.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Jodah. Thank you for commenting. I hope very much that none of the tapir species become extinct, too. We are living in a critical time with respect to animal survival.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Tapirs are cool.

      Great read!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      I have only seen a tapir in one zoo (I do not go to them any longer) but seeing them in the wild would be an experience of a lifetime. Hoping that something can be done to preserve these precious creatures.

      Well researched and presented so well.

      Thank you Alicia for all of this information about an incredible creature.

      Angels are on the way to you to day . ps voted up++++ and shared

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I think they're cool too, Larry! Thanks for the comment.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I would love to see wild tapirs as well, Patricia. What an exciting experience that would be! I appreciate your comment as well as the votes and the share. Of course, I love the angels, as I always do!

    • Pollyanna Jones profile image

      Pollyanna Jones 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      These are such beautiful and interesting animals. I've never seen one in the flesh, but remember having a mother and calf as part of my toy zoo when I was little, and being fascinated by them. I really hope that they are saved from extinction.

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 2 years ago

      Hi Alicia, what a fascinating animal you have shared with us! The images and videos you chose were fantastic! This is one of those animals that you forget exists until you see pictures of it again, so very rare and not talked about much. It looks almost prehistoric! Upvoted!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Pollyanna. Thank you for the comment. I hope that the tapir is saved from extinction, too. It's a fascinating animal!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Carolyn! I know what you mean about the tapir looking almost prehistoric. It's an unusual animal.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Oh, what a precious animal and that mom and baby video is so adorable! It is so sad that they are endangered due to man's devastation of their habitats in the wild. Thank you for this important hub here.

      This one should be HOTD no doubt.

      Up ++++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

      Bless you

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much, Faith. You always write lovely comments, and I always appreciate them! Thank you very much for the votes and the shares. Blessings to you as well.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very great hub. I learned a lot about this animal "Tapir" here from you. Thanks for sharing such rich information and your concern in preserving endangered species.

      Voted up and awesome.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Venkatachari. I appreciate your kind comment and your votes a great deal.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub about the Malayan Tapir, learned a lot after reading your interesting and informative article.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Vellur. I appreciate your visit and your comment.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 2 years ago from South Africa

      How interesting! The sound made by a tapir is fascinating - almost like a dog's bark - and the colour of their coat, too - giving one the impression that they are wearing a jacket.

      Thank you, Alicia, for a very interesting hub about Malayan Tapirs :)

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Martie. I agree - the sound and appearance of a Malayan tapir are very interesting. Thank you for the comment!

    • Peter Dickinson profile image

      Peter Dickinson 2 years ago from South East Asia

      Thank you....nice article.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the visit and comment, Peter.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I found this hub of yours to be very informative Alicia as all of yours are. It is a shame that the tapir is becoming endangered due to loss of habitat. The videos were interesting and in that first one, the noises made by a tapir are certainly interesting. They can really move quickly! The youngsters and their coloration reminds me of fawns. Many up votes, pinning to my animals board and will share.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Peggy. I appreciate your comment as well as the votes, the pin and the share!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Linda. What a fascinating creature. I was aware of the South American Tapir but not the Malayan. It's so sad that so many amazing creatures are struggling due to humans. The video of the newborn calf at th Denver Zoo was incredible. Great job, really enjoyed this hub.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, Bill. I agree - the video of the newborn calf being saved was incredible!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I wonder if this is what the locals in Cambodia call wild boars. Now that I know a bit, I can recognize it when I see one. Thanks for the intro to this very interesting Tapir.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, aesta1. Although a tapir isn't closely related to wild boars, I've read that some people refer to it as a "pig with a trunk". I guess they do see the resemblance! Thanks for the visit.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Very useful for kids to know that tapir still exists in zoo

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Yes, zoos can be very educational. Thank you for the visit, peachpurple.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting hub I like reading about the informative ideas you have on mind. Always worth the read. Voted up!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Devika.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, zoos Do have their uses, and it would be wonderful to increase the population of this beautiful animal. Thanks for making awareness live with this article, Alicia.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Deb. I wish we didn't need zoos, but they certainly do have their uses.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I am fascinated that somerhing this big can actually hide so easily in the jungle. Hopefully in his voracious attempt to take over every niche on the planet, man can find a little room for these unusual creatures. Great hub!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Mel. I hope that we can find room for tapirs, too!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      An informative hub zoos certainly has space for certain animals. A worthy place for many helpless creatures.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the visit, Devika. Good zoos do have some advantages.

    • John Albu profile image

      John Albu 2 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87102

      Absolutely adorable animal! It's very sad to see that it's endangered , due to human activity.

      By the way, AliciaC - are you into sloths? It would be nice to see you writing about sloths one day! Such an underrated animal, that humans have so much to learn from :)

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit and the comment, John. It's very nice to meet you. I'm interested in all animals, including sloths. I agree with you - sloths are definitely underrated!

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 2 years ago

      Thank you for bringing this and other endangered creatures to our attention. This was packed full of information. I especially enjoyed the close up of its unusual hooves, and that adorable calf! Upvoted and shared :-)

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, vote and share, Carolyn. I appreciate your visit.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      When I was saw Tapir in Bronx Zoo in 1986 or so, I was surprised to see the animal.

      The issue with most zoos I have is their lack of creativity. I wish they could design zoos keeping in mind the nature of wild animals. For example, elephants need to move a lot. They need to design zoos in such a manner that elephants have, perhaps narrow, but very long enclosures. Difficult - yes, impossible - no.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I agree, Suhail. Designing a zoo enclosure to fit an animal's lifestyle is very important. Thanks for the comment.

    • VioletteRose profile image

      VioletteRose 2 years ago from Chicago

      I have never heard of Malayan Tapir before. They look very unique and interesting, it is sad to hear that they are endangered. This is really very informative hub, thanks for sharing!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, VioletteRose. I appreciate your visit. The tapir is certainly unique!

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 2 years ago from Shimla, India

      Very informative.Thank u for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Akriti.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I am not sure I had every hear of a tapir before, but I sure know a lot about it now. The diversity in nature is just amazing. They sure are cute little fellas. This is so well done. Voted up+++ H+

      I see your hubber score is 100. I can see why. all of your hubs are great.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for such a kind comment, Catherine. I appreciate the lovely comment, the votes and the share very much!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Tapirs are such interesting animals--what a great article on them!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, Audrey!

    • tony55 profile image

      femi 2 years ago from Nigeria

      Strange looking animal would love to see one in the wild or a zoo. Nice

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, tony55. Yes, the tapir does have an unusual appearance! Thanks for the visit.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      I never knew that the tapirs are so cute:). I wonder, are they dangerous to humans? Can they be touched and petted?

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, grand old lady. Thanks for the visit. Some tapirs in zoos allow their keepers to touch them, but the wild animals wouldn't like to be touched. They are interesting animals, though!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 17 months ago from Essex, UK

      Nice to see an article about tapirs Linda - a comparatively little known animal considering its large size, but I guess its secluded jungle habitat and scarcity are responsible for that. They are very unusual creatures aren't they, particulalry this black and white Asian species, and it would be really very sad if they become extinct in the wild. One hopes that conservation efforts to save their environment are stepped up and are successful. At least it was good to see that they can breed in captivity, and it was good in that first video to see one running and swimming and calling in captivity - seemingly a picture of good health. Thanks, Alun

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 17 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Alun. Thanks for the visit. I hope the tapir survives in the wild, too. It is lovely to see how happy the tapir is in the video, although it's sad that the animal is living in captivity.

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