Tapir Facts: Animals of the World

A young tapir.
A young tapir.

The tapir is herbivorous mammal resembling a pig or a wild hog with a short, prehensile snout. However, it is more closely related to horses and rhinos than hogs and pigs. The word “Tapir” is an indigenous Brazilian word meaning “thick” referring to the nature of the animal’s hide. In Indonesia, the animal is called “badak” which is a similar word for rhino while in Thailand it is called “P’som-sett” meaning “mixture is finished” referring to the belief that Tapir was created from leftover parts of other animals. Tapir appears in five species. Four of the species are in Central and South America while the fifth species is in Asia.

Physical Description

The size of Tapir depends on its type, although most are about 6.6 feet long and stand about 3 feet high at the shoulder. A mature Tapir weighs between 330 to 700 pounds. It has a round body, short legs, and a stubby tail resembling a hippos'. The ears are oval and white-tipped while the eyes are relatively small. The front foot has four toes while the hind foot has three toes. A tapir’s most distinctive feature is its snout which is flexible like an elephants. The trunk is its upper lip and nose and is used to grab things just like the elephant’s trunk. It can also use trunks to pluck leaves and fruits.


The tapir is a herbivore with its diet consisting of fruits, berries, and fruits. It feeds on tender, young vegetation and fruits. It spends most of its walking hours foraging and follows trails or worn out paths made by other Tapirs in search of prime vegetation and watering holes. It walks with its snout on the ground in search of food. They can also dive to the bottom of the watering hole to eat the vegetation on the lower part of the hole. Tapir can consume up to 85 pounds of vegetation in a single day.

Habitat And Range

Tapirs are found in jungles and forest regions of South and Central America and Southeast Asia. Most of them are found in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and Paraguay. They live in areas with a sufficient water supply and plenty of vegetation for their diet. They shelter in the thick undergrowth of the forest or water. Tapirs use the thick vegetation as their hiding place from any pending danger and spend most of the daytime sleeping in the bushes. They are also common in water sources such as river banks with plenty of vegetation cover where they can obtain their food.


Tapirs are social creatures. They graze in groups called candles and do not exhibit any complex relationship. They spend most of their time in and around water feeding and taking refuge from predators and cooling off during high temperatures. They also submerge under water to allow small fish to pick parasites off their bodies. They are shy but can defend themselves using their powerful jaws. Despite the body size, Tapir can run very fast when it spots some danger.


Tapirs have a long gestation period of about 13 months giving birth to only one baby at a time. The calf can stand a couple of hours after birth and weighs about 22 pounds at birth. The calves resemble a brown and beige striped watermelon on the leg which helps in camouflaging. The calf reaches sexual maturity at the age of three to five years with the female maturing early.


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