A tapir is a large, browsing animal, roughly the shape of an over-sized pig but with a short, prehensile trunk. Size varies with different species, but most are about 2 metres long, stand about a metre high at the shoulder, and weigh between 150 and 300 kilos.
The tapir family is old by mammal standards: the earliest fossil tapir dates to the early Oligocene, and Eocene rocks from as long as 55 million years ago contain a wide range of tapir-like animals. Their closest relatives are the other odd-toed ungulates: horses and rhinoceroses.
- ORDER PERISSODACTYLA
The three lowland tapirs are largely nocturnal and crepuscular. The smaller Mountain Tapir of the Andes is generally diurnal, but all four species react to hunting pressure by retreating deeper into inacessable regions and becoming more nocturnal and more secretive.
Although they are taken by tigers and other big cats, bears, crocodiles and anaconda, humans are by far their major predator. Hunting for meat and hides has substantially reduced their numbers and more recently massive habitat loss has resulted in the conservation watch-listing of all four species: the Brazilian Tapir is classified as lower risk, near threatened; both Baird's and the Malayan Tapir are classed as vulnerable; and the Mountain Tapir is endangered.