Close-up portrait of rare Baird's tapir in nature



Species Spotlight

Baird’s Tapir

Quick Facts 

Name: Baird’s Tapir 

Diet: Herbivores feeding on vegetation at the bottom of the forest such as leaves, twigs, fruit, and small saplings 

Behaviour: Mostly solitary and nocturnal/crepuscular (active either at night or at dusk/dawn) 

Lifespan: 30 years 

Size: Up to 1.5m in length and 250kg in weight 

Habitat/Range: Rainforests, flooded grasslands, and marshes in Southern Mexico, Central America, and parts of northern South America 

Threats: Habitat destruction, local hunting, disease, illegal pet trade, and droughts 

Conservation Status: Endangered 

Species Spotlight

Names & Nicknames: Baird’s tapir, Central American tapir, Gardeners of the Forest, Danta, Ekwilamakkatola, Macho de Monte… Mountain Cow

Size: These stocky folks are 1.5m long and 250kg – around the same size as a vending machine. Baird's tapir is the largest land animal native to Central America, a wee bit smaller than its South American cousin, the Lowland tapir.

Communication: They're called mountain cows, but do they moo? Or trumpet with their elephant-like trunk? Tapirs are actually more closely related to horses and rhinos; they love to let out a sharp whistle tone. Ariana, stand aside! These high-pitched sounds help them communicate – think car brakes screeching to a halt. They'll whack out a foot stamp combined with a snort if they're really going for it. (Note: If you do see this, run!)

Favourite Snack: Vegan icons? Oh yes. Baird’s tapirs are known as ‘gardeners of the forest’ – munching on more than 200 different kinds of plants, and even using their swimming skills to get at the watery snacks. Basically, any vegetation that can get their snout on. Which, conveniently, is flexible enough to reach higher and harder-to-reach veg. And if that won't do, they'll break the twigs below high-up snacks so they drop into their mouths. They later poop out the seeds from plants they eat, helping grow and rejuvenate their forest neighbourhoods. Full circle.

 Baird’s Tapir walking

Favourite Hangout: It's hot in their Central and South American homes, so they opt for a nocturnal approach and a refreshingly cool dip here and there. Despite their heft, Baird’s tapirs are surprisingly fast and agile swimmers who can use their trunks as snorkels. Bathtime isn't just for fun, though. Splashing around in water blasts away parasites and helps them hide from predators!

Toilet Humour: As you know, Baird’s tapirs love nothing more than a nice swim. This not only provides a refreshing place to chill but also somewhere to… well… poop. When they decide to hold off from pooping in their baths, they create nice little ‘dump’ sites on land, and these dumping grounds are thought to be part of how they mark their home.

Love Language: XXX Courtship. There is often a lot of wheezing, genital sniffing, biting, and even a little urine spraying. Thankfully for unsuspecting passers-by, they often mate in water. After the deed is done, the female will aggressively chase off the male, which is a touch more forceful than just calling an Uber.

Female Baird’s Tapir and young

If You See Them: Well, firstly, consider yourself lucky. Apart from being incredibly rare, these tapirs are also a little camera-shy. Although they may appear calm from the outset, munching away on the forest floor, giving them their space is crucial. Tapirs defend themselves, and you don’t want a 250kg tank with a swinging nose charging towards you!

Red flags: As humans cut down more and more forests to make way for houses, farmland, and palm oil plantations, there's less space for these unique creatures to call home. Sadly, there is a long history of hunting Baird’s tapir for their meat, hide, and even for sport! Unfortunately, despite this being illegal, they're still up against it.

Glow-up: Baby Baird’s tapirs look pretty different from their mothers who raise them. Whereas the adults have a slick brown coat of bristly hair, their babies are reddish-brown with bright white spots and stripes. These markings aren't just to help them win beauty pageants; this pattern blends in with the speckled light of the forest, camouflaging them against any would-be predators.

Baird’s Tapir portrait

Eating Habits: Vegans through and through. They love all things plants and will snaffle up any fruit, stem, leaf, or piece of aquatic vegetation that can get their snout on. Which, conveniently, is flexible enough to reach higher and harder-to-reach veg. And if that won't do, they'll break the twigs below high-up snacks so they drop into their mouths.

Fun facts: Tapirs don't have the best eyesight; instead, they rely heavily on their hearing and exceptionally sensitive sense of smell. That might be why they poop underwater…

Who are they in the friendship group: The one who loves an all-inclusive holiday, where they can eat and swim to their heart's content.

How Threatened Are They: Endangered


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