Tapirs are related to horses and rhinos and are currently found in the tropical mountainous and lowland forests of South America and South-East Asia. However, fossils of tapirs have been found in North America and China. The Lowland Tapir has the broadest range of all the five tapir species, being found throughout most of the South American rainforests.

The most distinctive feature of a tapir is its short fleshy trunk, which is an extension of the soft tissue and muscle from the snout and upper lip. This trunk is very flexible and sensitive and is used to grasp food such as leaves and branches. Tapirs also eat a wide variety of flowers, buds, twigs, water plants and fruits. Because of their diets, tapirs are important long-distance seed dispersers, particularly in habitats like the Amazon. Interestingly, tapirs prefer to defecate in water, usually a stream or pond, assisting the movement of seeds throughout an area.

You may notice that tapirs have very thick necks. These probably protect them as they move through dense and prickly forest undergrowth. They may also help in defence, making it hard for predators such as big cats to bite the neck during an attack.

Lowland Tapirs weigh between 180 and 300 kilograms as adults, but only three to six kilograms at birth. Newborns are dark with white stripes and spots. These markings camouflage the tapir from predators such as Pumas and Jaguars and are replaced with their adult colouration of dark brown or black at around five to six months of age.

All species of tapir are threatened. They are solitary creatures that are slow breeders, with calves staying with their mothers for 12 to 18 months. Tapirs are very sensitive to habitat loss and are also regularly hunted for their meat. Other threats to tapirs include vehicle strike and disease.


  • Title: Tapirs
  • Publisher: Australian Museum
  • Rights: Creative Commons

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