Widely abundant in Southern Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in the early 1930s, Asian tapir populations have since rapidly declined and now survive only as isolated populations in remote or protected areas. Habitat destruction poses the predominant threat, as a result of land being cleared for human settlement and agriculture, and rivers being dammed and land flooded for hydroelectric development (11). In Sumatra, uncontrolled illegal logging still occurs. The tapir population is strongest in Malaysia, where deforestation has greatly declined (1).
The Asian tapir is hunted for food and sport (5). Although the flesh of tapirs was previously haram (forbidden) in Muslim areas due to the species’ resemblance to pigs (9), very recent reports indicate that Muslims no longer equate the two and thus hunt them for subsistence food (6). In Thailand and Myanmar the meat is considered distasteful and some tribes believe killing a tapir brings bad luck (1). However, a flourishing Asian zoo trade has put a tempting price on the tapir’s head, with a single animal fetching up to 6,000 US dollars (9). Tapirs also occasionally get caught in steel wire snares which are set for wild pigs (2). The low reproductive rate and fragmented distribution of this species mean that populations have a low rebound potential, and this makes it particularly vulnerable to hunting (14).