|The Brazilian tapir is a mammal that has remained
unchanged for over 35 million years. This shy forest inhabitant is a relative
of the horse and the rhinoceros. The tapir originated in Europe. It moved
to North America 35 million years ago and then spread to South America
and Asia. Fossil forms have been found that indicate the existence of many
prehistoric species. Today there are only four members of the family: three
in both North and South America, and one in Asia.
Habits: The Brazilian tapir is active mainly at night in its forested or wooded environment. The tapir scents, or marks with urine, its well worn trails. It spends most of its time near water or swampy ground, splashing about or wallowing in the mud, which helps keep it cool. The Brazilian tapir is at home in the water and is a fast swimmer, able to dive and stay underwater for long periods of time. The Brazilian tapir is surprisingly agile for its size and bulk; it is able to scramble quickly up steep hillsides and riverbanks.
The tapir is not as fast on land, but its bulk and tough hide enable it to push its way quickly through thick undergrowth. When danger threatens, however, it will escape to water. If cornered and separated from water, the tapir will put up a serious fight, using its teeth as it charges its attacker. In the heat of the day, tapirs usually rest in the shade of dense undergrowth. The tapir uses water to cool off and to get rid of any parasites. When pursued by predators, the tapir heads for water, where it can stay submerged for several minutes. A tapir uses its trunk much as an elephant does.
Food and Feeding: The tapir is a browser, feeding on aquatic plants, twigs, foliage, fruit, and a variety of other vegetation. Its favorite food is young green shoots, but it will also graze on grass and cultivated crops, making it unpopular with farmers. The variety in the tapirís diet helps it avoid accumulating dangerous levels of poisons that are present in rainforest plants. The tapir is a selective eater. It walks along with its snout close to the soil, turning its snout from side to side, stretching and withdrawing it to examine the ground. When it locates food, the tapir uses its trunk to pluck leaves and twigs and draw them into its mouth.
Breeding: Mating between tapirs occurs at any time of year, since the females come into season about every two months. The mating ritual is elaborate: the male chases the female before starting a mock fight featuring high pitched squeals. About 13 months after mating the female gives birth to a single young in a hiding place in the forest. Baby tapirs have yellow stripes or rows of spots on a dark brown background. This coloration camouflages them as they lie in the forest undergrowth. The markings fade when the young tapir is a few months old; within a year it has its adult coat. Baby tapirs become independent after about eight months.
Tapir and Man: Natives of the Brazilian jungle have long hunted the tapir as a source of meat and for its hide. Tapir flesh is considered a delicacy, and the hide produces excellent leather. It is also hunted because it occasionally raids crops and plantations. But the tapir is extremely shy and raids crops only in desperation. The future for the Brazilian tapir, which has survived for millions of years, is now uncertain because of the destruction of its habitat. As the tropical forests are cleared for agricultural development, the tapir is forced to retreat into less suitable habitats, where it has less chance for survival.
Related Species: Bairdís tapir, found from
Mexico to Ecuador, west of the Andes. Mountain tapir, from Colombia and
Ecuador to Peru. Malayan tapir, from Burma and Thailand to Malaysia and
Features of the Brazilian Tapir:
Did You Know:
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