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Tapirs: Tapiridae

Malayan Tapir (tapirus Indicus): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: This species is 6 to 10 feet (1.85 to 2.50 meters) long with a tail measuring 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters). They weigh 550 to 825 pounds (250 to 375 kilograms) and have a shoulder height of 35 to 41 inches (90 to 105 centimeters). This large tapir has a black coat except for the rear half above the legs, which is white.

Geographic range: Malayan tapirs are found in Southeast Asia, including Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Habitat: Malayan tapirs live in the lowland forests of swamps and mountains up to an elevation of 6,560 feet (2,000 meters). This species needs a permanent water source with plenty of water for drinking and bathing. Highest populations are found in swamps and lowland forests.

Young tapirs are born with stripes and spots on their coat, which they lose as they mature. This Malayan tapir's adult coat is growing in. (© Terry Whittaker/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: Malayan tapirs prefer tender leaves and shoots from certain trees and bushes. They eat moss and a variety of fruits. A Thailand study revealed that this species preferred thirty-nine plant species of which 86.5 percent were eaten as leaves, 8.1 percent as fruit, and 5.4 percent as twigs with leaves. Because they do not digest the seeds as well as multi-stomached animals, their feces contains seeds that eventually lead to new plant life.

Behavior and reproduction: Malayan tapirs are nocturnal and rest in seclusion during daylight hours. These excellent swimmers emit shrill whistles when alarmed or trying to settle down their offspring. They follow paths with the head down, sniffing the ground. Their sense of smell is good while their eyesight is weak.

Pregnancy lasts between 390 and 407 days and results in a single birth. The calf nurses for the first six to eight months, at which time it begins eating the vegetation of adults. This species is ready for breeding around the age of three years. Malayan tapirs live for about thirty years in the wild, and their main predators are tigers and leopards.

Malayan tapirs and people: Malayan tapirs are hunted in some areas of Asia for meat and other products and illegally traded in other areas. Humans have always been the prime enemy of the Malayan tapir.

Conservation status: This species is listed as Endangered. Their forest habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate for agricultural purposes. Asian countries have laws protecting Malayan tapirs, but they are still killed for their meat. ∎



Emmons, Louise H. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide, 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Kricher, John. A Neotropical Companion, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Web sites:

"Animal Bytes: Tapirs." Sea World. http://www.seaworld.org/AnimalBytes/tapirs.htm (accessed on July 9, 2004).

"Brazilian or Lowland Tapir." Enchanted Learning. http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/mammals/tapir/Tapirprintout.shtml (accessed on July 9, 2004).

"Malayan Tapir." Animal Info. http://www.animalinfo.org/species/artiperi/tapiindi.htm (accessed on July 9, 2004).

"Malayan Tapir." Animal Planet. http://animal.discovery.com/fansites/jeffcorwin/carnival/lilmammal/malayantapir.html (accessed on July 9, 2004).

"The Tapir Gallery." Tapir Preservation Fund. http://www.tapirback.com/tapirgal/ (accessed on July 9, 2004).

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