Lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris)

Also known as: Amazonian tapir, Brazilian tapir, South American tapir
French: Tapir D'Amérique, Tapir Terrestre
Spanish: Anta Brasileña, Danta, Danta Amazónica, Gran Bestia, Tapir Brasileño
GenusTapirus (1)
SizeHead-to-body length: 1.7 – 2 m (2)
Height at shoulder: 77 – 108 cm (3)
Weight200 - 250 kg (4)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (5).

One of the most distinguishing features of tapirs is their long, flexible proboscis, formed from the upper lip and nose (3), which is used to strip leaves and pluck fruits. (2). This bristly-coated tapir varies in colour from dark brown to greyish-brown, generally with a dark underside and legs, and lighter cheeks, throat and ear tips (3) (4). Newborn tapirs have a dark brown coat with white spots and stripes, which provide good camouflage (2). A prominent, erect mane sits on top of the crest and extends from the forehead to the shoulders (6). The crest running from the top of the head down the back of the neck is much more pronounced than in other tapir species, giving it a stockier appearance (8).

Broadly distributed across most of mainland South America east of the Andes, from northern Colombia extending to southern Brazil, northern Argentina and Paraguay, including throughout Venezuela and the Guyanas, eastern Peru, and northern and eastern Bolivia (4) (6).

Found in moist, lowland rainforests where water is present, but habitat association varies extensively (8) (3). Seasonal movements to higher elevations during the rainy season have been reported in some areas (8).

During the day lowland tapirs remain hidden in thick cover, emerging only at night to browse on leaves of small plants, shrubs, lianas and saplings of trees, as well as tree bark, reeds and fruits (2) (4). Well worn tracks are followed throughout the home range to food and water sources (3). This tapir swims well and spends much of its time wallowing in water, which helps to get rid of skin parasites (3) in addition to providing protection from terrestrial predators such as jaguars and pumas (2). Tapirs will also regularly walk on river beds, searching for favoured aquatic plants (6).

These tapirs are primarily solitary animals, except during the mating season (6). Females give birth to a single calf after a gestation period of 13 months (8), which then remains in intermittent contact with its mother for around seven months, becoming increasingly independent (4) (6). Lowland tapirs have been known to live up to 35 years in captivity (3).

Deforestation, hunting and competition with domestic livestock have all contributed to the decline and fragmentation of lowland tapir populations (1). Hunted for subsistence food and commercial sale, the large size of lowland tapir makes them a prized game mammal for native and rural people of South America (8). Hunting for tapir meat is increasing as the wild-meat industry develops, with tapir meat now frequently sold in city markets throughout South America. In Paraguay and Argentina tapirs are hunted for their hides, which are commonly used in Paraguay to make sandals that are sold to tourists as souvenirs. In Colombia the species is listed as endangered due to over-hunting (8).

Tapirs have also been taken from the wild to be kept as pets by Paraguayan and Peruvian aristocracy, where they are often poorly cared for and malnourished (8). Other threats include anti-drug chemicals used by authorities against cocaine growers, which can eventually end up in the food chain and poison tapirs (7). Road-kills are also common in reserves within close proximity to human settlement (8).

Although protected areas do exist within the range of the lowland tapir, they are sparse in certain countries (there is only one reserve in Guyana, established in the early 1990s), and those reserves that are close to human settlements often suffer from poaching. A priority of the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group is to develop projects that will reduce hunting by establishing more reserves and promoting the sustainable harvest of wildlife by rural hunters. The second priority is to reduce habitat destruction through firmly managed agro-forestry projects. However, it is difficult to enforce hunting laws in remote areas when there is a direct economic benefit. Yet, if hunting continues at its current levels, local extinction of lowland tapir populations is almost certain (8).

For further information on the lowland tapir see:

Authenticated (09/02/2006) by Leo Salas, Editor of the Tapir Conservation Newsletter, IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group (TSG).

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)