what's a tapir?

Although tapirs are often mistaken for pigs and anteaters, they're in the odd-toed hooved animal family (perissodactyls), as are the horse and rinocerous. All four species of tapir are endangered. The Malay tapir (shown below) is native to Asia, where its natural enemies are the tiger and man. The largest tapir, the Malay tapir weighs up to 800 pounds. It also has the most dramatic coloration, with black shoulders, head, and legs and a white band around the body. The Mountain, Baird and Brazillian tapirs are native to South America, and all are solid black or black- brown. All baby tapirs have light colored, horizontal, watermelon like stripes, but these disappear by adulthood.

If you see a tapir lounging on a hot day, you might think it is slothful. However, in motion, tapirs are fast and agile, and they also swim well. Tapirs in captivity sometimes have violent tantrums: a Malay tapir severed the arm of a keeper at the Oklahoma City Zoo in 1998.

At the Artis zoo in Amsterdam, on an overcast morning in late autumn, we walked by a display that looked empty, until a door in the stone wall in the back opened, releasing two Malay tapirs. When excited, they squeaked at each other, a sound out of scale with such a large animal. They plunged into, splashed, and bolted dripping out of a pool in their enclosure. They galloped, trotted, chased and switched leads just like horses. We'd seen only sedate tapirs in Dresden's zoo, and never even a picture of one running, so we didn't understand its relationship to the horse until we saw them gallop. Later we remembered that Eohippus, the tiny 5-toed ancestor of the modern horse, bounded through prehistoric tropical forests browsing understory vegetation. Is the tapir what the horse might have been if it had stayed in the jungle?

Images of tapirs persisted and began to appear in my notebooks and on scraps of paper. Tapirs showed up in grey pencil, ultramarine and aquamarine, and pale vermillion and yellowed orange. Quick sketches of ears, feet, and trunks surrounded tapirs running and eating. I liked the roundness of the their body and ears, their strange three toed feet, their short trunks, and their otherworldly presence. The tapir became an imaginary or enchanted creature creeping across pages, none more so than our glowing magenta mascot, who had attained full enlightenment. Paul discovered that tapir.org wasn't taken, so we found our spirit animal animal we were looking to watch over our place about plants, animals, art, and science.

All four species of tapir are either endangered or threatened.

Tapir Photos
A few tapir photographs I've taken
Zoo Man's account of tapir
In this excerpt from A Zoo Man's Notebook, the former curator of mammals of the New York Zoological Garden describes the zoo's experiences keeping tapirs
The Tapir Gallery
Sheryl Todd's comprehensive site about tapirs. Around 1970, Sheryl raised two tapirs and is currently the president of the Tapir Preservation Fund.
Animal Photos!
Thousands of pictures of every kind of animal.