Baird's Tapir
(Tapirus bairdii)
Baird’s tapir is the largest indigenous mammal in Central America. It is a primitive animal that resembles the ancestor of rhinos and horses, and has changed very little in the last 35 million years. Characterised by a long, fleshy nose, like a shortened version of an elephant’s trunk, this shy quiet mammal lives in tropical forests and grasslands and is rarely seen. The species is currently declining as a result of habitat destruction and hunting. Its low reproductive rate makes it even more vulnerable to these threats.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Surveys to determine status and location of remaining populations, the protection of habitat, and the monitoring and regulation of hunting.
Central and South America.
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Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Tapiridae
Tapirs are perissodactyls (odd-toed ungulates), a group of herbivores that also includes rhinos and horses. The family Tapiridae comprises four living species in the single genus Tapirus: Tapirus pinchaque (mountain tapir), T. terrestris (lowland tapir), T. bairdii (Baird’s tapir) and T. indicus (Asian or Malayan tapir). The origins of the Tapiridae can be traced back at least fifty million years. Fossil evidence indicates that the tapirs are most closely related to rhinos. Modern tapirs closely resemble the ancestral perissodactyl condition. They have changed little in body shape over the past 35 million years, although the proboscis probably did not develop until the last few million years. Prehistoric tapirs inhabited Europe, North America and south-east Asia. The genus Tapirus can be traced back to the early Miocene (at least 8 million years ago). Of the four species which survive today, three migrated from Central to South America across the Panamanian Land Bridge 2-3 million years ago. The fourth species, the Malayan tapir, remains in south-east Asia. Eight other tapirid genera have been described, all of which became extinct before the Pliocene (7 million years ago) with the exception of Megatapirus, a giant tapir found in Pleistocene deposits of Sichuan Province, China. There is some controversy regarding the relationship between the four living tapir species. The South American tapirs are thought to be more closely related to one another than they are to the Asian tapir, and the mountain tapir is thought to be most closely related to the lowland tapir.
Head and body length: 180-250 cm
Shoulder height: 73-120 cm
Tail length: 5-13 cm
Weight: 150-320 kg
Baird’s tapir is the largest of the New World tapirs, and the largest indigenous mammal in Central America. It is characterised by a distinctive snout, which is elongated into a fleshy, flexible proboscis, like a shortened version of an elephant’s trunk. Young tapirs have a reddish-brown coat marked with strips and spots for camouflage. These markings are lost as the animal grows – the thick hide of adult tapirs is a dark brown or grey colour and covered in sparse bristly hairs. Some individuals develop a long, narrow mane, although this is not always visible. The eyes are small and flush with the side of the head, and the oval shaped ears are white-tipped and relatively immobile. Tapirs have stocky, barrel-shaped bodies and short powerful legs that are well suited for rapid movement through thick underbrush. They have three splayed toes on each foot, and a fourth, smaller digit on each front foot for additional support on soft ground.
Tapirs are shy, quiet animals that are rarely seen. They can be active at any hour, but generally shelter in forests or thickets during the day and emerge at night to browse in forest clearings. They eat a variety of leaves, twigs, fruit and seeds. Tapirs possess micro-organisms in their guts to digest plant material, and they must eat a large amount of food daily. They are very agile, moving well in both closed and open habitats, and negotiate steep slopes with ease. They are able swimmers and frequently wallow in streams or rivers during the day. When disturbed they often seek cover underwater. Tapirs are thought to live alone or in small family groups, and maintain partially overlapping home ranges. They travel along tracks throughout their ranges, which they mark regularly with urine. They communicate with others through scent and also by emitting shrill whistling calls. Births occur throughout the year, with the females giving birth to a single (or occasionally two) young after a 13 month gestation period. The young tapirs stay with their mother for up to 2 years.
The species can live in a wide variety of habitats, including tropical forests, woodlands, grasslands and marshes. It is generally found in humid habitats, from sea level to 3,600 m. The main requirement seems to be a permanent water supply.
The species was once abundant throughout Central America, from southeast Mexico to Panama and northwest Colombia. It is now extinct in parts of its former range (e.g. El Salvador) and persists in relatively small numbers in pockets of remaining habitat in Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Population Estimate
There are thought to be fewer than 5,000 surviving Baird’s tapirs.
Classified as Endangered (EN A2abcd+3bce) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and listed on Appendix I of CITES.
The main threat to the species is from habitat destruction. It has been estimated that around 70% of Central American forest areas have been lost through deforestation and alteration over the last 40 years. Much of the species’ rainforest habitat is being cleared for cattle ranches and development. Almost all rainforest has been cleared in El Salvador, and the species is now believed to be extinct in this country. Tapirs are also hunted for food and sport. Their low reproductive rate means that they are particularly vulnerable to these threats.
Conservation Underway
The species is protected throughout its range, and is the national symbol of Belize. However, hunting laws are poorly enforced in many areas. The species occurs in several protected areas throughout its range. The Tapir Preservation Fund was established in 1996 to promote tapir research and conservation. This organisation, together with the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group (TSG) and several American and European zoos, is working on developing and implementing tapir research, conservation and management programmes. There are five Baird's tapirs in captivity in Wuppertal Zoo in Germany.
Conservation Proposed
Conservation efforts should focus on maintaining the species' habitat. There is some evidence to suggest that tapirs may be able to withstand selective logging in certain areas. The IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group has produced an Action Plan for the species. Recommendations include carrying out surveys to determine the status and location of remaining populations, the protection of habitat, and the monitoring and regulation of hunting.
Associated EDGE Community members

Biologist from Universidad de Costa Rica, finishing his MSc. on Conservation & Wildlife Management.

Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii)

The Tapir Gallery
The Tapir Gallery is linked to the Tapir Preservation Fund which aims to preserve tapir habitats and promote awareness and conservation efforts for this species.

IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group (TSG)IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group (TSG)

Contact: Baird‘s Tapir Coordinator Eduardo J. Naranjo Piñera, Mexico, enaranjo@sclc.ecosur.mx
Brooks, D. M., Bodmer, R. E. and Matola, S. 1997. Tapirs - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. (English, Spanish, Portuguese) IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Castellanos, A., Foerester, C., Lizcano, D.J., Naranjo, E., Cruz-Aldan, E., Lira-Torres, I., Samudio, R., Matola, S., Schipper, J. & Gonzalez-Maya. J. 2008. Tapirus bairdii. In: 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. Downloaded on 12 November 2010.

Tapir Preservation Fund

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

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