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Tapirs: Tapiridae

Lowland Tapir (tapirus Terrestris): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Lowland tapirs are 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.2 meters) in length with a tail that measures 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) long. They weigh 396 to 660 pounds (180 to 300 kilograms) and have a shoulder height of 2.5 to 3.5 feet (.77 to 1.10 meters). This species is tan to black or dun in color. Their black mane runs from the forehead to mid-back.

Geographic range: Lowland tapirs are found in Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, northern Argentina, and the Guianas.

The lowland tapir is a good swimmer, and spends time in the water to cool off during hot weather. (Tom Brakefield/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Habitat: Lowland tapirs live in lowland rainforests and mountain cloud forests up to 4,920 feet (1,500 meters) in Ecuador. They live in higher altitudes in other locations.

Diet: Lowland tapirs eat trees, bushes, and herbs. They also eat aquatic plants and walk on river bottoms as they feed. Lowland tapirs play an important role in their ecosystem by dispersing seeds. When they eat, they spit some of the seeds out, which can grow into plants. This keeps food and plant life plentiful.

Behavior and reproduction: Lowland tapirs gather together around salt licks, which they require to obtain nutrients. Otherwise, they are mostly solitary creatures. They are agile swimmers and spend time in the water. When frightened, they squeal loudly. On land they stand absolutely still to avoid detection. In the water, they immerse themselves until only the tip of their snouts is sticking out of the water.

Pregnancy lasts 385 to 412 days and results in a single birth. During the breeding season, lowland tapirs are monogamous. They will change partners from season to season. In captivity, this species lives to be about twenty-five years old. In the wild, their main predator is the jaguar.

Lowland tapirs and people: In native religions, the tapir is endowed with magical powers. This species is hunted for its meat, leather, and body parts for use in medicine. Lowland tapirs are important to their ecosystem because of their ability to disperse seeds.

Conservation status: Lowland tapirs are listed as Vulnerable due to forest destruction, hunting, and competition from domestic livestock. A renewed interest in the wild-meat industry is also taking its toll on the population. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsTapirs: Tapiridae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Tapirs And People, Lowland Tapir (tapirus Terrestris): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, CONSERVATION STATUS