Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii)

French: Tapir De Baird
Spanish: Anteburro, Dante, Danto, Macho De Monte, Tapir Centroamericano
GenusTapirus (1)
SizeLength: 198 - 202 cm (2)
Shoulder height: up to 120 cm (2)
Weight240 - 400 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN - A2abcd+3bce) on the IUCN Red List 2002 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (7).

Baird's tapir is the largest of the American tapirs (3) and the largest indigenous mammal in Central America (4). Tapirs are well known for their elongated, flexible upper lip that is extended into a proboscis, resembling a shorter version of an elephant's trunk (2). These animals are 'living fossils'; the group has changed little in body shape over the past 35 million years (3), although recent evidence suggests the proboscis may be a more recent addition (6). Baird's tapir has a barrel-shaped body and stocky legs (2). Adults have bristly, short dark hair and dark-grey coloured skin (6), apart from the pale grey-yellow cheeks and throat, and the white-tipped ears (3). Newborn tapirs have a reddish brown coat with white stripes and spots (3). Tapirs support their weight on three spread-out toes on the back feet and four on the front (3).

Once abundant throughout Central America from southeast Mexico to Panama and even reaching into northwestern Colombia (6); but today persisting only in pockets of remaining habitat (4).

Inhabits dense tropical jungles (2), preferring areas with a permanent water supply (5).

Very little is known about the natural ecology of Baird's tapir; these shy creatures were thought to be solitary but are now believed to live in pairs or small family groups (6). When disturbed, they tend to seek cover underwater and are agile in both the forest's hilly terrain and within streams and rivers (2). Tracks throughout the home range are repeatedly used and are marked regularly (2); individuals communicate within the dense jungle via scent, but also with shrill whistling calls (4). There is no distinct breeding season and births may occur throughout the year (4), a female will generally give birth to a single young after a gestation period of 13 months (5). Young tapirs stay with their mother for up to two years (5).

Tapirs tend to forage in forest clearings where there are many colonizing plants (5). Browsing often occurs at night (5), and the diet consists of a variety of foliage together with seeds and fruit (4).

Baird's tapir is primarily under threat from habitat loss throughout much of its former range. The low reproductive rate of this species means that populations are particularly vulnerable to disturbance such as habitat loss and hunting (5). Vast tracts of rainforest are being cleared to make way for cattle ranching and developments; almost all of the forest in El Salvador has been lost and there is no recent information to suggest that Baird's tapir persists in this country (5).

Baird's tapir, the national symbol of Belize, is protected in the majority of Central American countries, although hunting laws are often poorly enforced (5). Populations are unable to withstand mass logging practices, but have been known to survive and even prosper in areas where selective logging occurs, which could be an important factor in their conservation (5). The IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group has published a Species Action Plan identifying key actions required to protect this species; including species status surveys and the protection of habitat (5). Having persisted for millennia almost unchanged, the continuing survival of the tapirs depends primarily on the maintenance of their habitat in some form.

For further information on tapirs see:

To learn about efforts to conserve Baird's tapir see:

Authenticated (19/6/02) by Sheryl Todd. President, Tapir Preservation Fund.

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2002)
  2. Ultimate Ungulate (May, 2002)
  3. CITES (May, 2002)
  4. Burnie, D. [ed.] (2001) Animals. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  5. Animal Diversity Web (May, 2002)$narrative.html
  6. Todd, S. (2002) Pers. comm.
  7. Brooks, D. M., Bodmer, R. E. & Matola, S. ( 1997) Tapirs - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. (English, Spanish, Portuguese) IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.