The second smallest and most endangered of the five 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. They are very agile climbers, able to negotiate the steep mountain slopes, snow banks and even glaciers with ease. There are five species of tapir, all within the only genus in the Tapiride family; Tapirus. The group are part of a formerly diverse order, the Perissodactyla, which today is only represented by horses, rhinos and tapirs. 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. They have a plethora of threats, from the construction of new highways, habitat destruction and degradation; including large tracks of mature montane forests being converted to opium fields, creation of dams, to the introduction of cattle into their range imposing disease risks – among others, leading to high fragmented populations spread through Columbia, Ecuador and northern Peru. Fewer than 2,500 are thought to remain.
- Order: Perissodactyla
- Family: Tapiridae
- Population: <2,500
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 1.8-2.5m
- Weight: 150-320g
Endemic to the Andes Mountains in Colombia, Ecuador and possibly northern Peru. Historically it has been reported in Venezeula, although there is no definite evidence that has its range ever extended this far.
Habitat and Ecology
The mountain tapir is the only tapir that does not inhabit tropical forests, as it lives in the high Andes; where temperatures are regularly below freezing. It is most commonly found at altitudes of 2,000-4,300m in montane cloud forests, riverine meadows and páramo grasslands (alpine meadows). They feed on a variety of leaves, seeds and shoots – being crucial seed dispersers. 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.