An ungulate is any hoofed mammal, but of course, the best ones are tapirs! This page is for reports of zoo visits and "I saw a tapir" stories and comments. It also serves a very lofty purpose for those of us who can't go to the zoo every day. We can simply come visit this page and get our vicarious tapir thrills. Read, enjoy, and please send me your stories! ~ Sheryl
Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii)
Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris)
Woolly Mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque)
Asian or Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus)
Have you ever fed a tapir? I did once. I fed a tapir, and he was a very good boy.
Received January 28, 2000, from Kate Wilson. Written for Parker Illig, age 4, who likes to visit tapirs at the zoo and tell people what they really are--they are not pigs! Further down the page, you can read several more of Kate's stories about Goober.
I went to the San Francisco Zoo one morning because I wanted to see Goober their new tapir. Goober is a dignified Baird's tapir: dark gray tuxedo, white shirt front, portly outline, as though he were perpetually dressed for opening night. They were building him an enclosure worthy of his wonderfulness, so the day I went he was living in a temporary yard, and I wasn't sure where to find him in it.
The yard was basically just a small fenced meadow with a pond, a hill on one side of it, and a path around it. When I got there, the hill was sunny, the meadow was rippling with wildflowers, and the pond was muddy, but where was Goober? I started following the path. Around the corner of the fence ... between some bushes ... oh my goodness, I was beside a building. It was low and square. The front opened up into the enclosure. The back went through the fence and sat on the path. Goober's house.
The back door opened. For half a second my heart stopped, but of course it wasn't Goober. It was a small woman with curly blonde hair and a no-nonsense jaw and tall green boots. She was a zookeeper.
Obviously her heart stopped for a moment too. She stood very still with big eyes. I realized I wasn't supposed to be back there (but how was I supposed to know? There was no sign, and the path led exactly to Goober's back door). I hunched my shoulders and said "I was trying to see Goober."
She said, "Well, come on in," and opened the back door wide.
Inside, it was one big room. At the opposite side, the front part of the house was open like a stable. Clear green light came through the opening; Goober's meadow was out there. Everything inside, though, was dark wood and concrete. The feeding bins were wood. The walls were concrete. The floor was concrete, but it was covered with straw. A HUGE fence with thick wood slats kept us from going more than a step and a half into the house--and behind this fence, pacing and whirling and nodding his head and waving his nose, was Goober.
I said idiotically, "He's MOVING." The zookeeper, Michelle Radowski said, "He's hungry." She called through the fence slats, "You're a good boy, Goob! You're a good boy!" Goober did not seem particularly pleased or displeased. He kept pacing -- back, forth, back, forth, back, FEED ME, forth.
He had bulging sleek sides ("He's kind of porky, so we've put him on a diet," Michelle explained) that were furry up close, and oval white-tipped ears that kept up an independent dance. His head came up above my shoulder. The weird thing about Goober was, I couldn't hear a sound when he moved. Not a whuff from his snout, not a grunt, not even the scuffle of toes on dirt. It was like watching a silent movie of a tapir. No, wait. I leaned forward so my face was close to the slats, and inhaled. Sheryl was right about what she said her website: Goober smelled exactly like fresh lettuce.
Michelle picked a banana, perfectly gold shading to pale green at the stem, out of the metal bucket in the corner. No second-quality produce here! She poked the banana over the top of the fence, so that the end curved down into Goober's part of the house. "You're a good boy, Goob!" His nose groped up -- it had a stripe of brilliant pink running up into his mouth underneath -- and clung to the banana as though by magnetism. The banana glided down, guided by his nose, and CRUNCH. Bananas don't have bones, so that sound must have been the skin snapping when he bit through it.
Crunch crunch crunch. Goober ducked his head and chewed with his mouth closed: a very polite tapir. His nose rotated and he swivelled silently back to the fence. Grope grope; up went his nose again. Michelle handed me a banana. "Hold it over. Keep your hand on this side."
I brought the banana up. Goober saw it through the slats and by the time I had the banana to the top of the fence, he was waiting with his nose up. He opened his mouth -- it was almost at eye level, I could see his teeth, so white, like human teeth in back and dog teeth in front, with pink pink gums -- and lifted the banana from my hand.
No, he didn't drag it. He lifted it. Offer a dog food; feel how the dog pulls the food down out of your hand? Goober lifted the banana from me deliberately, as though it were a diploma. He lowered it into his mouth somehow. Crunch crunch crunch, like he was chewing wood. I fed a tapir. I fed a tapir. Crunch crunch.
I don't remember much after that. I know I told Michelle to tell me when it was time to go, and she fed Goober some carrots, then picked up a rake and stirred the straw on the floor and said "It's time to go." I thanked her with small words and weak ones, and walked out into the day. (I fed a tapir.) Then I sat by Goober's fence for a while, out where I was supposed to be, and watched. Michelle and Goober came out into the meadow together. (I fed that tapir.) She hosed out his feed bucket. He leaned against her leg. She scratched his jaw. "You're a good boy, Goob! Good boy!"
I fed a tapir. I fed a good tapir. I fed a boy named Goober, and oh, he is a good tapir. Good boy, Goob. Good boy.
"I Met A Baby Tapir!"
Lisa Pavey has graciously added to our collection of stories. Look! She also sent photos!
Lisa and Amuk 1 Lisa and Amuk 2 Amuk
August 24, 1998
Just wanted to give you an update on Malayan Tapirs at San Diego Zoo.
I went on a private tour of the zoo last Monday. We arrived at the gate at 9am and started our tour. I had written to the education department asking to see a few animals in particular - tapirs were high on my list! Therefore, I wasn't surprised that we stopped at the tapir exhibit first. What did surprise me was that we went straight through a side gate and into the tapir enclosure! There we met the keeper, Al. We waited for a few minutes while he finished up some cleaning. Then he just walked over to a pen and said, "Who wants to feed the baby a banana". Out trotted a baby tapir born in June called Amuk. He was super clean as he had just been hosed down and he was VERY interested in the banana!! I got to feed him and then it was snuggle time!! Al scratched Amuk's back until he laid down and invited us to tickle his tummy - too cute! Amuk is losing his baby stripes but had a very spotty tummy. His feet looked oversized and had little pads of fat. We spent about 10 minutes fussing over Amuk. Meanwhile, his mum (Chantek) and dad (aptly named Dad!) looked on. Another tapir, Rose, was out in the exhibit, but she stopped by for a look. She is very pregnant and is due to give birth any day if she hasn't already. When I asked what names they had in mind for the new baby, Al said I could name it if I came up with a good one. I have suggested Hidung, which is the Indonesian word for nose ;-)
The rest of the tour was good, but we definitely started out with the best bit first!
Love those Tapirs!!
October 12, 1998
An update from my trip to San Diego Zoo. I had a message on my voice mail this morning from Al the tapir keeper. The very pregnant tapir, Rose, gave birth to a 19 pound baby on September 25th. He has been named Hidung :-) This is the name I suggested when I visited in August.
I got to name the baby :-)
Tapirs Got Physics
Received February 28, 1998, from Kate Wilson. Further down the page, there are even more of her stories about Goober, the "extra" male Baird's tapir at the San Francisco Zoo. At least for now, Goober may be "extra" in the captive Baird's tapir breeding pool, but he certainly fulfills his role as an educator and source of pleasure for zoogoers in San Francisco.
After spending a morning sitting on the San Francisco Zoo sidewalk in the sun, watching Goober the Baird's Tapir, I have discovered that:
1) Tapirs are precision twitchers.
2) Tapirs know physics.
I learned that tapirs are precision twitchers because when I first caught sight of Goober today, he had just emerged from his pool, and was eating a leafy branch that someone had shoved in between some rocks to keep it upright. Therefore Goober had to stand up to eat, and therefore his wet flanks and belly were exposed to the air with their hair plastered down (which, I assume, made it easier for flies to bite through; they were certainly buzzing around the wet parts of him). I saw that Goober's hide kept up a continual twitching, just like that quick little localized flicker that horses do with their skins to shake off flies. It worked exactly as well as a horse's does -- it discouraged the flies at the precise moment of the twitch, but it didn't chase them off permanently.
I learned that tapirs know physics by watching Goober use physics to get himself a snack.
He ate all the leaves and twigs off the branch, and eventually got down to the branch itself, which was as thick around as two or three broomsticks, and wedged into the rocks firmly enough to stay upright during his browsing. When Goober got to these "bones," he pushed on the branch till it fell down between the rocks. Then he stuck his snout in between the rocks and worked at the branch until it came loose and he could put it on the grass.
Side note: I had an excellent view of the precision with which he manipulated the branch till he could lift it out from between the rocks -- he had turned his back to me to work on the branch, so I crouched down and stared between his back legs, and could see his snout and tongue action from underneath. Some people might think that voluntarily positioning your head four feet from a tapir's butt won't teach you anything.
Anyway, when he finally got the branch loose and laid out on the grass, first he ate down from the top till it got too thick to chew through. Then he picked up the branch by the middle and BIT. It didn't shatter (it was quite a hefty branch) but it kind of bent, and as he worked it around in his mouth, the bark shredded to reveal the wood beneath.
Then he spat the branch out. Then he picked it up again with a bit of preliminary nosing, and he began *shaking* it slowly like he was trying halfheartedly to break its neck.
I had seen him do this shaking-his-food thing before, and I had been puzzled. It's not like tapirs chase down smaller animals, shake them till they're dead, and eat them. It's not like tapirs are notoriously playful, either. And anyway, his motion was probably too slow either to kill anything or to provide amusement. But this time I was close enough to see exactly what was happening when he shook the branch. He was using physics.
When he had nosed the branch before picking it up, he had actually been separating out one of the ragged ends of bark to bite into. Then when he had picked the branch up, he had lifted it by the bit of bark and allowed it to dangle. Now he was oscillating the branch, allowing its weight and momentum to separate it from its own bark. He had figured out how wide an arc he could swing his head in so that the bark would peel off but not break. So the bark kept peeling and peeling, till it was a nice spaghetti-mouthful.
Eventually, of course, it broke, and he ate. Then he selected another piece of bark fringe, lifted the branch by it, and put the awesome properties of the pendulum and the power of gravity to work for him again. I even saw him increase the force and distance of the pendulum-swing to achieve optimal separation (the bark couldn't peel back over a twig till he slung it around a bit).
Monkeys may make tools, but tapirs harness the elemental forces of the universe.
(For another view of Goober, see our "Tapirs in Literature and Film" page and click on the link that says Encounter with a Tapir.
Sent on July 7, 1997, by Mark Reid, tapir supporter in Canada. NOTE: Many zoos have programs where you can adopt a tapir by paying something for its food and keep. As funding for animals becomes more and more difficult due to cutbacks and increases in the cost of living, the extra help is much appreciated. There are apparently benefits for adoptive "parents" as well!
By the time that my wife and I were married in 1991, we had already adopted a couple of tapirs at various zoos and acquired a genuine regard for these incredible beasts. As we planned to honeymoon in England (where I was born ) we scheduled a visit to London Zoo where we were "Zoo Parents" of two Malayan Tapirs.
On arrival in Regent's Park we raced immediately to their enclosure and found "Eva" sitting outside, placidly watching a light rain land on her pond. Her partner, "Bertie" was wandering about inside the building, plainly wishing he were outside with his mate. After watching them for quite some time, snapping innumerable pictures and pointing out things to each other (!) we found a Zoo employee letting himself into Bertie's space.
I casually enquired about the tapirs by name and after discovering that we were listed on the sponsors' plaque nearby, the fellow invited us to return in a couple of hours when he would feed the pair. The rest of the afternoon passed in an eternity of anticipation until, at 3:00 pm we were invited into the indoor enclosure to help feed, and pet, the happy couple. BLISS!! After reading, writing, drawing, donating, etc. about these animals for so long, we finally had the chance to actually touch them and see them in their own "living room." Our host, Steve, spoke at length on their history and habits, giving the distinct impression of one who cared deeply for his charges.
Although we were saddened to hear that Eva & Bertie were soon to leave London Zoo as part of their "re-structuring," our spirits rose when we learned that they were going to join Lord McAlpine's private zoo at Henley. Officials had inspected the site and Steve spoke glowingly of the tapirs' retirement home - 80 acres of pasture with a small lake, llamas, etc. He said it would be absolute heaven compared to their billet in downtown London. After "wallowing" in the presence of the tapirs for a good half hour, we bid them a farewell snuffle and thanked Steve profusely for his hospitality.
Although we spent a wonderful 3 weeks in England, walking hand-in-hand through the fog and rain, the highpoint of the honeymoon was undoubtedly our visit with the tapirs. As Carol and I have just begun our lives together, we hope that Bertie & Eva have settled into a well-deserved retirement in their luxury, Thames-side quarters. After a lifetime together, producing 8 offspring, they've certainly earned it!
Sent by tapir-watcher Kate Wilson in California on July 7, 1997. Goober is one of the "extra" male Baird's tapirs in captivity. He now lives at the San Francisco Zoo. Read the second story below about his introduction to the Golden-Gated city on the bay (that story also explains the reference to capybaras).
Goober has a new home! He is installed in the Goober Hilton, a gorgeous open sunny field with shade trees around the edge and a pool in the middle. And he's out all the time now, eating clover or getting his chin scratched by employees (one of whom, Michelle Radowski, tells him constantly he's a good boy -- this tapir is beloved, at least by the people who didn't have to separate him and the capybaras) or lying down by the fence in the shade.
In fact, he was lying down by the fence in the shade this past Saturday, and I was contemplating his portly beauty. His nose was running slightly: drops of clear liquid formed slowly on the end of his snout.
A father and son came to look.
SON: What's that, Daddy?
FATHER: (immediately earning crown in heaven for not saying "I dunno, looks like a pig") Says here it's a tapir. (spelling it) T-A-P-I-R.
SON: (trying the pronunciation) TAYper. TuhPEER? TAYper. (seeing Goober's runny snout) Hey, Dad! His nose is LEAKING! (To Goober) Mister, hey. You. Your nose is leaking. Dad, do we have any Kleenex for him?
The Vanishing Tapir Act
On April 12, 1997, Kate Wilson continued her dogged effort to see the new male Baird's tapir at the San Francisco Zoo (see "Rumble in Tapir Alley," the story following this one). We have learned that his name is "Goober," that he was born at the Los Angeles Zoo on August 12, 1994, that he arrived in San Francisco January 30, 1997, and that he does not like to come out and play when visited by certain intrepid observers. We have further learned that his maternal grandmother, Rachael, was saved from becoming dinner by veterinarian Nate Gale in Panama about 1976. Rachael's mother was not so lucky. Goober's paternal grandma, named Tanya, now 17 years old, is the first female Baird's tapir to appear in Germany (Wuppertal Zoo). Zeke, Goober's paternal grandpa, made national news when he died at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1983, shortly after swallowing a rubber ball that was thrown into his compound by a visitor. (Foreign objects and unauthorized food really can be dangerous to the animals!) Maybe Goober has the right idea after all - staying indoors. Kate writes:
I'm beginning to wonder if the SF Zoo is fibbing about having a tapir. I went again on Saturday to try to see him. Every other animal was out in the sunshine, blooming with health, doing amazing things. The polar bear was down in the moat surrounding his cage, eating moss from the rocks. The peacocks were screaming, and vibrating their tails till the feathers made air-conditioner sounds. The giraffes were slurping leaves daintily off branches, like Grand Duchesses eating spaghetti. The baby rhino was menacing his mother with his tiny nose-horn, and his mother would retreat slowly, then advance and menace him in return. The female cassowary was pacing around her cage when a pine cone fell from a tree and hit her on the head; she leaped in amazement, twisted her head, looped her neck, and apparently thought the people around her cage had done it to her, because she charged first the family next to me, and then me. When she charged me, she stopped about a millimeter from the fence and stretched herself up and up, glaring, till I felt very meek and edible and went away from there.
And amid all this photogenic ruckus, the tapir was . . . in his barn. I hung around the fence for a long while, but as evolution has shown, you can't outwait a tapir.
Rumble in Tapir Alley
On March 14, 1997, Kate Wilson wrote regarding her continuing effort to see the new Baird's tapir at the San Francisco Zoo:
Now for the explanation of Rumble in Tapir Alley, to which I was not an eyewitness. I received this account piecemeal from a couple of zookeepers:
Thursday the 13th was the first day that the new male Baird's Tapir was allowed to mingle with his pen-mates. It was also the day of The Great Tapir/Capybara Unpleasantness.
Early in the morning, the keepers opened the heated barn where the new male Baird's Tapir sleeps, and allowed him out into the main yard with the two capybaras who share his pen. The tapir has been out of quarantine for a week and so has had some time to get used to his new home, and the keepers wanted to see whether or not he and the capybaras would get along. They don't.
It started with, as the sweatier and more dishevelled zookeeper of the two said, "a hassle." He wouldn't discuss the issue further. The other zookeeper was in a better mood, and explained that the hassle had escalated into a fight, which reached crisis point when one of the capybaras made a giant leap directly onto the tapir's back. (The zookeeper said, "I didn't know they could jump like that.") The keepers had to wade in and separate the combatants ("You first." "No, *you.*" "Nuh-*unh.*").
By the time I arrived on the scene, one capybara had been sent out by the front fence and distracted with huge bowl of bananas and greens; the other capybara was lying down in a smaller pen in back. The tapir was nowhere to be seen. The zookeeper said, "He decided to take a nap," and looked like he could do with one himself.
The time didn't seem right for asking the tapir's name or favorite foods, so I thanked them for the information, and went to see the cassowaries.
-- From your correspondent in War-Torn San Francisco
ED NOTE: Tapirs have often been kept with other animals such as capybaras, sheep, goats, deer, peccaries, guanacoes, llamas, donkeys, elephants, hippos, agouti, anteaters, emus, rheas, storks, geese, ducks, and other birds. It should be noted that introductions are unpredictable and often difficult. Although it's not said here who started the "hassle," tapirs themselves can sometimes be kept together and sometimes not. Tapirs that have been kept together in the past may fight on re-introduction. It may be dangerous to keep two males together. Also, some individuals are naturally more docile than others. Further, tapirs - usually males - are sometimes given to "tantrums" but may be gentle on other occasions. (Tantrums are well documented by zoos and other places where tapirs have been kept.) It will be interesting to see if the tapir and capybaras settle down together or not.
Toddler Meets Toddler
On February 4, 1997, Elayne wrote: My daughter and I had the coolest experience yesterday at the San Diego Zoo. We always go early in the morning to the tapirs first because the 5 month old [Malayan tapir baby] is usually out with his mom. While we were standing there, someone who works there heard me getting all excited about seeing them and invited us to go in the back and see where they sleep. We saw the new tapir baby, Tonsa, born December 28, 1996. She was adorable! Unfortunately my camera is out of batteries so I could not get pictures but next time I will. The male tapir, separated from the two mommies and kids, enjoyed a back rub by the zookeeper. Brynna (my daughter) was so excited, her stroller was parked next to Lefty, the male, and he then stuck his nose out of the bars and smelled her stroller. It was quite a sight. This experience made my whole week, I had to share it with someone who understands how wonderful tapirs are.
- [Here Sheryl wrote back to Elayne and made sure it was the Malayan tapirs, and Elayne replied.]
- Yes, they are the Malayan tapirs, the San Diego Zoo also has 2 Baird's tapirs but they were sleeping when we went by. I go to the web page frequently and print out pictures for Brynna, she likes to carry them around and say, "They're so cute Mommy!" Some people are quite amazed that a 2 year old goes around talking about tapirs.
- ~ Elayne
|penmate list:||From Results of a survey of captive tapirs taken by the TAPIR RESEARCH INSTITUTE between July of 1970 and March of 1971. The same survey reported a tapir killed by its penmate, a hippo. Introducing animals and separating the ones that fight must be one of the more hair-raising jobs a keeper has to perform. BACK|
Photo by Russell A. Mittermeier, 1973, Lowland tapir, Bosque, Belém