Mountain Tapir
(Tapirus pinchaque)
The smallest and most endangered of the four species of tapir, the mountain tapir survives in a few remaining undisturbed refuges high in the Andes. It is also known as the woolly tapir because of its thick woolly fur, which keeps it warm in freezing night-time temperatures. Like other tapirs, this species has a long prehensile nose capable of grasping leaves. It is hunted for its meat, pelt and body parts, which are used in traditional folk medicine. Fewer than 2,500 are thought to survive.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Increased protection and creation of additional reserves and corridors to link isolated populations. Re-establishment of populations in areas of former habitat, and public education programmes.
Andes Mountains in Colombia, Ecuador and possibly northern Peru.
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
The smallest of the four living tapirs, the mountain tapir is also called the woolly tapir because of its thick, woolly coat of reddish brown or black fur. This fur, with its dense undercoat, protects the tapir from the freezing night-time temperatures of the Andean Mountains. Like other species of tapir, the mountain tapir has a long, flexible snout and a very good sense of smell. It has a fringe of white fur around the lips and on the tips of the ears. Its stocky, barrel-shaped body is supported by short, powerful legs which end in three splayed toes. A fourth, smaller toe is present on each forefoot. This toe, which does not usually touch the ground, provides additional support when the tapir is moving on soft ground. The eyes are small and flush with the side of the head and the ears are rounded and immobile. Females tend to be slightly larger than males, but are generally indistinguishable in the wild. As with other species of tapir, juvenile mountain tapirs are reddish-brown in colour and marked with a series of white stripes and spots.
A shy animal that is seldom seen, the mountain tapir seeks refuge underwater when disturbed. Like all species of tapir it is an excellent swimmer and can remain submerged for several minutes at a time. It can poke its trunk above the surface of the water to breathe, which enables it to remain hidden from hunters and predators. The species is also a very agile climber and can negotiate the steep mountain slopes, snow banks and even glaciers with ease. The species is most active at dawn and dusk, when it feeds on a variety of leaves, seeds and shoots. It has been shown to play a crucial role in seed dispersal for many important Andean plants. During the day the animals generally rest in areas of dense vegetation or wallow in water or mud. Tapirs were previously thought to be solitary animals, but are now believed to live in pairs or small family groups, and maintain partially overlapping home ranges. Larger groups sometimes congregate at salt-licks. The tapirs communicate by urinating on paths throughout their home ranges to leave scent marks, and by emitting shrill whistling calls. Tapirs become sexually mature at around 3-4 years of age, and females then give birth to a single calf (or occasionally twins) once every two years.
The only tapir that does not inhabit tropical forests, the mountain tapir lives in the high Andes, where temperatures regularly fall below freezing. It is most commonly found at altitudes of 2,000-4,300 m in montane cloud forests, riverine meadows and páramo grasslands (alpine meadows).
Endemic to the Andes Mountains in Colombia, Ecuador and possibly northern Peru. Historically it has been reported in Venezuela, although there is no definite evidence that its range ever extended this far.
Population Estimate
The current population size is estimated to be fewer than 2,500 individuals.
Population Trend
Classified as Endangered (EN A2cd+3cd; C1) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
As the human population in the Andean region expands, an increasing amount of the species’ habitat is being cleared for agriculture and livestock. This is forcing the tapirs into suboptimal parts of the mountains. The development of roads and human settlements further fragments the tapir's habitat, resulting in animals becoming isolated in small populations which are susceptible to inbreeding and may not be viable. These populations are further at risk from illegal hunting for their meat, pelts and body parts, which are used in traditional folk medicine – the animal’s hooves and snout are used to treat epilepsy and heart ailments, despite it being illegal to harm or kill any mountain tapir or sell its parts. The low reproductive rate of the species makes it particularly vulnerable to the effects of hunting and habitat destruction. The introduction of livestock poses a further threat, bringing disease and attracting predators such as pumas and spectacled bears to the area.
Conservation Underway
The species is protected by law throughout its range and is listed on Appendix I of CITES. However, illegal hunting remains a major threat. Populations occur within a number of protected reserves in Colombia and Ecuador and a small number of individuals are held in zoos. 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, are working on developing and implementing tapir research, conservation and management programmes. These organisations have been involved in several education and awareness campaigns for local people in recent years.
Conservation Proposed
Habitat protection is the most important conservation measure. The IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group (TSG) produced an Action Plan for the species in 1997. It states that existing reserves should be protected and additional reserves be established in areas of suitable habitat, together with corridors to link these refuges. Population monitoring and translocation programmes to re-establish animals in areas of former habitat are also recommended. Further public education programmes would be beneficial. The involvement of local people in mountain tapir conservation is required to prevent poaching and local habitat destruction. These people must benefit economically for mountain tapir conservation to be effective. This can be accomplished through properly balanced agroforestry, ecotourism, and production of native products such as tapir soft toys and tapestries. Captive breeding has been tried but has proved unsuccessful in the past. The capture of wild individuals has led to many deaths. Thus captive breeding is not recommended for this species.
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)
This collaborative global group of biologists, zoo professionals and researchers are dedicated to conserving tapirs and their habitat through strategic action-planning in countries where tapirs live, information sharing, and through educational outreach that shows the importance of the tapir to local ecosystems and to the world at large.
Diaz, A.G., Castellanos, A., Piñeda, C., Downer, C., Lizcano, D.J., Constantino, E., Suárez Mejía, J.A., Camancho, J., Darria, J., Amanzo, J., Sánchez, J., Sinisterra Santana, J., Ordoñez Delgado, L., Espino Castellanos , L.A. & Montenegro, O.L. 2008. Tapirus pinchaque. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4.www.iucnredlist.org . Downloaded on 14 November 2010.

Brooks, D.M., Bodmer, R.E and Matola, S. (Compilers). 1997. Tapirs - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. (English, Spanish, Portuguese.) IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. viii + 164 pp.

Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore and London.

The Tapir Gallery. (Oct 2005).

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

Forum comments

There are as yet no comments for this species.

Add a comment

You must log in to post. If you don't have a login, it's easy to register.