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Scientific name:

CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Perissodactyla
FAMILY: Tapiridae

STATISTIC: Weight: 500 – 700 lbs; Height: 29 – 47 in

The Malayan tapir has a thick, rounded body that slightly narrows towards the head and possesses a short, stubby tail. Its eyesight is rather poor and its eyes tend to have a cloudy overcast to them. It has short, rounded ears that do not really move, but its hearing, as well as its olfactory senses, is excellent. It has an extension of the nose and upper lip that looks like a short trunk and is referred to as a proboscis. As a juvenile, its fur has stripes and spots that are black and white in color. As it ages, the spots and stripes disappear, leaving behind solid white on the torso and black on the head region and hind legs. The front feet have four toes and the hind feet have three toes like those of other tapir species.

Southern and central parts of Sumatra (Indonesia), Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia

Tropical moist forests

Malayan tapirs are usually pretty shy and docile around most creatures; however, there is quite a bit of fighting that goes on between individual tapirs. A male can be suddenly aggressive when it is sexually excited or encountering a new animal. For the most part, tapirs are solitary, except when a mother stays with her young. When threatened, the tapir is most likely to seek safety in the water, but it will fight back by biting in dire situations.
The tapir enjoys being around the water and is actually quite adept at swimming despite its large size. It finds places in the underbrush near bodies of water to rest and sleep, especially during the hottest part of the day. Tapirs like to keep their snouts close to the ground to splash around in the water and wallow into mud. Wallowing is a way for the tapir to get rid of ticks. Rubbing against trees is another way for it to get rid of ticks as well as loose hair and lice.
A tapir’s body is pretty well suited for grazing through the underbrush. For starters, its short stature lets it pass under the lowest of branches with ease. Its tough hide allows it to walk through thorny plants while obtaining little damage. While foraging, the tapir moves in a zigzag pattern, grabbing a few mouthfuls of food before moving on to the next plant.

There is not a specific mating season so breeding can take place at any time of year. The gestation period for tapirs is from 390 to 400 days with usually only one offspring being produced at a time. A female possesses only one pair of mammary glands near the groin region to support her young. A newborn only weighs about 13-15 lbs when it is born, but will be adult-sized in six to eight months. Typically, the offspring will not stay with its mother for more than eight months. At three or four years of age, a juvenile will reach sexual maturity.

Prey to tigers, leopards, and man
Predator to none

Aquatic vegetation and the leaves, buds, twigs, and fruits of low-growing plants.

Listed as Endangered by IUCN due to loss of available habitat, fragmentation of remaining habitat, and increasing hunting pressure.


  • The name “tapir” comes from the Tupi Indian word “tapyra.” Tupi used to be the common language spoken in Brazil.


  1. CITES. Nov. 2009.
  2. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Nov. 2009.
  3. Novak, Ronald M. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Vol. II. Baltimore, Maryland. The John Hopkins University Press. 1991
  4. National Geographic. Book of Mammals. Vol. II. Washington D.C. The National Geographic Society. 1981
  5. Eisenberg, John F., Groves, Colin P., & MacKInnon, Kathy. Grzimek’s Encyclopedia: Mammals. Vol. IV. New York, St. Louis, San Francisco. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. 1990

Published: July 2010

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