Tapirus terrestris can be found predominantly in Brazil, but its range covers much of South America’s tropical forests. It ranges from northern Argentina to Venezuela, but is absent from Chile and locations west of the Andean Cordillera. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Norton and Ashley, 2004; Nowak, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)
Brazilian tapirs prefer tropical montane forests, but are also present in swamps and lowland forests. It can be found from sea level up to 4500 meters in elevation. They are adept mountain climbers and sometimes create paths to larger bodies of water. They prefer to live close to water, especially rivers, and are comfortable swimmers. The highest population densities are found in areas with lush vegetation and 2,000 to 4,000 mm of rainfall per year. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Husson, 1978; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)
Adult mass of Brazilian tapirs ranges from 150 to 250 kg. Shoulder height varies from 77 cm to 108 cm, while body length can reach 221 cm in females and 204 cm in males. Their skulls have a prominent sagittal crest that gives the top of the head a humplike projection extending from the eyes to the neck, and a short mane follows the sagittal crest projection. Adults are dark brown to red, and juveniles are brown with horizontal white stripes, which fade after seven months. Brazilian tapirs have hooves and a pronounced proboscis. The proboscis is made up entirely of soft tissue, and the snout has significantly reduced bone and cartilage compared to other ungulates. The molars are lophodont, and the dental formula is 3/3, 1/1, 4/3, 3/3 = 42. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994; Witmer, et al., 1999; Zoological Society of London, 1867)
The mating system of Tapirus terrestris has not yet been determined. When females are sexually receptive, males compete for the right to mate by biting one another on the feet, suggesting polygyny. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)
Gestation in Brazilian tapirs typically lasts for 380 days, but ranges from 335 to 439 days. Estrous occurs every 50 to 80 days and lasts for 48 hours. Most females become sexually mature between 2 and 3 years of age. The oldest female recorded to have given birth in captivity was 28 years old. Brazilian tapirs breed year round. They have 1 offspring at a time, which weighs from 3.2 to 5.8 kg at birth. Weaning is complete by 6 to 8 months of age, and most offspring are independent by 18 months of age. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)
Female Brazilian tapirs nurse young for 6 to 10 months and continue to live with young for an additional 1 to 8 months. Males provide no parental care to offspring. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)
There is little information available concerning the lifespan of Tapirus terrestris. Typically, it lives for 35 years in captivity, and there is no information regarding the lifespan of wild individuals. (Padilla and Dowler, 1994)
Brazilian tapirs are typically solitary, and although they are not exclusively nocturnal, they tend to keep to the shelter of the forest during the day and come out to feed at night. They are often seen in pairs during mating season and when females travel with offspring. Brazilian tapirs have limited eyesight, but strong olfactory perception. Although they are usually shy, they are aggressive while competing for mates or defending territories. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)
There is no information available regarding the home ranges of Brazilian tapirs.
Brazilian tapirs produce several vocalizations. A shrieking sound is used to express fear, distress, or pain. Clicking noises may be used to identify themselves to conspecifics, particularly during mating season. They show aggression with a nasal snort, and when irritated, it makes a puffing noise. Brazilian tapirs also use methods of chemical communication, as they urinate and use facial glands to demarcate territorial boundaries. (Hunsaker and Hahn, 1965; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)
Brazilian tapirs browse at night, eating fruit, leaves, and other plant material. Preferred forage plants include mombins, which produces fruit similar to large plums; huito, which produces large berry-like fruit; and moriche palm, which produces palm fruit. (Nowak, 1999)
Other than humans, the tapir’s main predator is the jaguar. They are sometimes taken by crocodylians. When alarmed by predators, tapirs flee to water or the nearest brush. If cornered, however, a tapir runs directly at its predator. Its semi-nocturnal tendencies may help decrease risk of predation. (Padilla and Dowler, 1994)
Brazilian tapirs are browsers and grazers. They are exceptionally common in certain area of their geographic range and make up a significant portion of the total biomass in these communities. They are frugivorous and are potential seed dispersers of many important fruit trees throughout their geographic range. Their digestion generally leaves ingested seeds undamaged, as is the case with fruit from assai palms and epena. Brazilian tapirs are host to a number of parasites including several species of ticks (Haemophysalis juxtakochi and Amblyomma ovale), numerous species of ciliated protozoa (Buisonella tapiri, Blepharocorys cardionucleata, Balantidium coli, and Prototapirella intestinalis), and roundworms (Neomurshidia monostichia and Physocephalas nitidulans). Burrowing mites sometimes cause sarcoptic mange. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)
Brazilian tapirs are hunted for hide and meat, providing a significant amount of protein to the diets of various rural populations. They have been domesticated in Brazil and taught to pull plows and allow children to ride them. They are also kept in numerous zoos across the globe. (Padilla and Dowler, 1994)
There are no known adverse effects of Tapirus terrestris on humans.
Tapirus terrestris is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. Although more studies are needed to determine current population densities and trends, it is widely thought that T. terrestris is declining throughout its geographic range. Major threats include over hunting, competition with livestock, and habitat loss through deforestation. It occurs in numerous protected areas throughout its range, and although it is legally protected from hunting, these laws are rarely enforced and have proven ineffective. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists T. terrestris under Appendix II, and the species is listed as Endangered by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. (Naveda, et al., 2010.4)
Samantha Luxenberg (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
parental care is carried out by females
union of egg and spermatozoan
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
an animal that mainly eats fruit
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.
uses touch to communicate
Living on the ground.
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
breeding takes place throughout the year
young are relatively well-developed when born
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Husson, A. 1978. The Mammals of Suriname. Netherlands: Brill.
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Zoological Society of London, 1867. Proceedings. London: Zoological Society of London.