South American Tapir

By Marla Lise

Scientific Name: Tapirus terrestris

The South American tapir or the Brazilian tapir is the second largest mammal in South America, second to its cousin, the Baird’s Tapir. There are four species of tapir in the world and three of them reside in South and Central America.

Tapirs are related to horses and rhinoceroses, not pigs or anteaters, as people commonly think. They share the same type of feet – having hooves on the ends of their legs – and animals like these are known as ungulates.

Tapir in Brazil's Pantanal. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
The South American tapir is found in lowland regions around Northern and Central South America. They are usually found near places that have salt and water. Very little is known about these quiet creatures and researchers are using methods such as camera and footprint traps to track and monitor populations in the area.

Tapirs have few babies throughout their lifetime and they take a long time before giving birth the first time, which results in their recovery being very slow if the population is disturbed.

All four species of tapir are considered endangered or vulnerable and the population numbers of the South American tapir have been decreasing over the past few years. Scientists believe that five of the nine known species of tapirs have already become extinct. Their habitats are slowly being destroyed due to deforestation and they are being hunted for meat.


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