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Malayan Tapir

Updated on December 4, 2016

Image ©2008 Splash Damage Ltd. Used with permission.

Tapirus indicus

The Malayan or Asiatic tapir is strikingly patterned with the foreparts and the limbs black and the rest of the body white, making it inconspicuous in its native habitat.

Completely black individuals have been recorded from southeast Sumatra but whether these are melanistic individuals or a distinct race is as yet, undetermined.

Of the four known species of Tapirus, the Malayan is the largest, weighing as much as 800 pounds (360 kg). It is black, with a white body and haunches. The white begins behind the forelegs and extends over the rest of the body except for the hindlegs and tail. There is no mane on the neck, the proboscis is longer than in other species and the build is heavier and stouter. Malay tapirs live in lowland, especially swamp forest, in Sumatra, Malaya, Tenasserim, southern Thailand, and formerly also in Laos, where they have been recorded at Bassac, and in northern Thailand, where they were reported at Xieng May on the Shan States frontier. In prehistoric times the tapir occurred also in Borneo and in the Pleistocene it was found in Java and China.

The three species in South and Central America are similar in appearance to the Malayan tapir except that they are dark brown to reddish, sometimes with lighter colouring on the head and throat. The Brazilian and Baird's tapir have a low, narrow mane, which is not always easy to see. The skin of the mountain tapir is thinner than that of other species.

A Malay tapir has lived nearly 30 years in captivity, but in its later years it developed opacity of the cornea and became nearly blind. In the wild it is preyed upon by tigers, which it attempts to dislodge from its back by rushing through the undergrowth and plunging into pools. One which was badly lacerated by a tiger was found by villagers who rescued it and although it was so badly injured that it could not stand up, after being disinfected and hand-fed, it recovered over a period of three months. Occasionally, Malay tapirs damage crops.

The gestation period is about 400 days, young weighing 17 pounds (7-5 kg) on birth and being black with longitudinal white streaks and spots on the body. These markings disappear within 12 months, and as they disappear the white 'loincloth' appears on the hindquarters.


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