Baird's tapir on the Tapir Gallery Web Site - click to learn more about Baird's tapirs
Baird's tapir
Mountain tapir on the Tapir Gallery Web Site - click to learn more about mountain tapirs
Mountain tapir
Asian tapir on the Tapir Gallery Web Site - click to learn more about Asian (or Malayan) tapirs
Asian tapir
Lowland tapir on the Tapir Gallery Web Site - click to learn more about lowland (or Brazilian) tapirs
Lowland tapir

The Tapir Gallery
The Official Web Site of The Tapir Preservation Fund
| Contact | Site Map |
Tapir Gallery Home > About Tapirs > What are tapirs . . .

What are tapirs and
why are they interesting?

Well, they're one of the lesser-known large animals in the world. They weigh between about 350 and 900 pounds, depending on which species you're talking about. Their closest relatives are horses and rhinos and they inhabit jungle and forest lands in Central and South America as well as in Southeast Asia. (An unusual distribution, which can hardly be overlooked by anyone interested in geomorphology.)

All four species are considered by one list or another to be endangered. They have flexible snouts that are fun to watch, and the young look like striped watermelons on legs. With luck, a tapir will live about 25-30 years. If you've ever stood quietly by a tapir pen at a zoo, you've probably heard curious people who haven't read the sign yet calling them pigs, anteaters, armadillos, aardvarks and even bears. As I mentioned, they're not all that well known. Not big like an elephant, humanoid like a chimpanzee, strikingly built like a giraffe, ferocious like a lion, neither commonly seen nor beautifully colored, they're often overlooked.

Retaining many prehistoric characteristics, they've been referred to as "living fossils," and "creatures that time forgot." If you saw the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, these are the critters director Stanley Kubrick chose to inhabit his prehistoric world along with proto-humans. It was a tapir bone, hurled into the air, that dissolved so magically into the future.

Water-loving, a tapir not only swims well, but has the ability to walk on the bottom of ponds and rivers. It's often said that tapirs are "docile," but they may also throw tantrums, during which they will sometimes gnash and bite. Strong as an ox and nearly indestructible (I knew one tapir that liked to toss a cast-iron bathtub around his yard), tapirs emit chirp-chirping sounds that you could easily mistake for a bird. They'll eat almost anything, but a favorite food is, almost universally, bananas.

In the literature, tapirs have been called "stupid," "clumsy" and "awkward," none of which are true. A domesticated tapir may not come when you call its name and it won't walk on a leash, but it's far from being stupid. It may appear to be ungainly, yet it can turn on a dime, out-maneuver a Weimaraner while playing "tag," can figure out how to open a standard round doorknob, drink water from a Coke bottle, nibble carefully from a fork, and learn to recognize the sound of one car engine over another. With its keen sense of smell, a tapir can pick up the scent of a lettuce leaf yards away. And speaking of lettuce, the closest I can come to describing the smell of a tapir is to say it smells like a crate of lettuce!

Lastly, there's a story I found amusing, and I hope someday I can again locate the source. Apparently the great French zoologist, Cuvier (I think it was Cuvier), announced to the world one year that all the large land mammals had been discovered - there would be no more found. The very next year, the Malayan tapir became known to Western science. I hope I have this information right, and I don't offhand know the year, but it's such a good story I had to tell it. Thank you for visiting the Tapir Gallery. I hope you'll stay and spend a little time with these anomalous, unique and under-appreciated animals. Welcome to the fascinating world of tapirs!

Purchasing a gift from
Tapir and Friends Wildlife Gift Shop
helps preserve living tapirs
and their habitats.

All tapirs are endangered species.
Saving tapirs helps save the rainforest.

Make a Donation
Tapir Gallery Main Page

Write to us: