Forgotten Species – Tapir

Walking around in the lush rainforest of Central America is a fascinating animal that can weigh up to 400 kg. With its long, characteristic nose it grabs leaves to eat of branches.  Its closest relatives are horses and rhinoceroses. Although Baird’s Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) is considered endangered, very few people know anything about this remarkable species.

Baird’s tapir is one of four species of tapirs that exist in the world. All are considered threatened and this particular species is classified as endangered by the IUCN Red list. The total population is estimated to less than 5500 individuals and unfortunately declining. The major threats are illegal hunting, habitat destruction and fragmentation throughout its range. Because of their slow reproductive rate, even loss of a few individuals represents a threat to the population.

They are able to reproduce when they are two years old and give birth to only one baby. The babies have reddish-brown hair with white spots and stripes to blend in with the vegetation on the forest floor. After only three weeks the baby can swim. This is an important skill. Tapirs spend lots of time close to or in water and often need to cross rivers to reach new feeding grounds. During warm days they may rest in watering holes for hours with only their heads above water.

The tapir is a solitary animal but smaller groups of juveniles and adults may sometimes be seen feeding together. They forage for leaves and fallen fruits in the forest undergrowth and are active mainly at night. Among its few natural enemies are jaguars and American crocodiles. However, adult tapirs are known to be able to defend themselves very well.

Something that the tapir is not able to defend itself against is the negative impact of human activities. One of the main threats to many rainforest species is deforestation. Conservationists are therefore focusing their effort to educate people about sustainable forestry.  Visual communication is an essential tool in all environmental education.

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