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Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus) Facts: An Endangered Species

Linda Crampton is a writer and experienced science teacher with an honors degree in biology. She enjoys writing about science and nature.

An Intriguing and Endangered Animal

The Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus) is an unusual and intriguing animal. It has an extensible proboscis that is very mobile and often looks like a small version of an elephant's trunk. Unfortunately, the animal needs our help. Its population is endangered due to human activity. Destruction of its forest habitat is taking a serious toll on the animal's numbers. Malayan tapirs are found in zoos around the world. It would be very sad if these became the only places where they existed.

Five species of tapirs exist. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), three of these species are endangered and one has a vulnerable population. The fifth species was named in 2013, although the claim that it's a distinct species is controversial. Its population status is unknown.

Four of the tapir species live in Central or South America. One species—the Malayan tapir—lives in Asia. It's found in southern Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In the twentieth century, the Malayan tapir was seen in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos as well, but these populations are believed to be extinct.

A Malayan tapir at the Louisville Zoo

A Malayan tapir at the Louisville Zoo

The Five Species of Tapirs

Baird's or Central American tapir: Tapirus bairdii

Brazilian or Lowland tapir: T. terrestris

Woolly or Mountain tapir: T. pinchaque

Malayan or Asian tapir: T. indicus

Kabomani tapir: T. kobomani

Not all scientists agree that the last animal in this list should be classified as a separate species.

What Are Tapirs?

Tapirs are large, bulky, and herbivorous mammals in the family Tapiridae. They live in forests but spend a lot of their time in water. The most noticeable feature of a tapir for many people is the long, mobile, and muscular snout. Technically, the snout is known as a proboscis. It's made of the animal's nose and upper lip. The nostrils are located at the tip of the proboscis.

A tapir's proboscis is extensible. It's also prehensile, which means that it can wrap around objects and grab hold of them. It's used to strips leaves from branches and to pick fruits. The proboscis may remind some people of an elephant's trunk, but tapirs are more closely related to rhinoceroses and horses than to elephants.

Tapirs, rhinoceroses, and horses are mammals in the order Perissodactyla. They belong to different families within this order. Elephants are mammals in the order Proboscidea. Their placement in a separate order means that they are significantly different from the other three animals.

Another Malayan tapir in a zoo

Another Malayan tapir in a zoo

The Malayan tapir is classified in the class Mammalia, the order Perissodactyla, and the family Tapiridae. It's often said to be an odd-toed ungulate, although the word "ungulate" has an imprecise meaning. The tapir is the only ungulate with four toes on the front feet and three on the back.

Helpful Camouflage

The Malayan tapir is the largest species of tapir and has the longest probiscis. The animal is also known as the Asian tapir. It has a distinctive black and white pattern on its body. The body is black or dark grey except for a white area on the back and sides. This area starts just behind the shoulders and extends to halfway down the rump. Each ear is tipped with white as well.

The animal is most active at night, although it may sometimes be seen during the day. It might seem that the dramatic contrast in the tapir's colours would make it easy to see in the wild, but the animal's colouring is actually a type of camouflage. The two tones on its body help to disguise the animal as it moves through a forest lit by moonlight and containing shadows. The sharp boundary between the black and white parts of the tapir breaks up its shape at night. The pattern helps to prevent a viewer from seeing the outline of the its body and recognizing that it's an animal. This type of camouflage is known as destructive colouration.

Other Features of the Animal

The tapir's size and weight vary. Males may reach 6 feet in length and 720 pounds in weight. Females are generally heavier than males and may reach 900 pounds or more. An adult tapir is about 42 inches high at the shoulder.

The animal's body is narrower in the front than in the back. It has short legs and a very short tail. There are four toes on each of its front feet and three toes on each of the back ones. The toes are widely separated. Each one is covered by a thick layer of a protein called keratin, which creates a hoof.

The Malayan tapir's bulky appearance and short legs may give the impression that it's a slow and lumbering animal. This impression is very wrong, however. The animal can run fast when necessary. It's also a great swimmer and diver.

The video above is a camera trap one. In this setup, the video camera isn't controlled by a person. It's triggered to start filming by an animal's movement in front of the camera. The camera is placed in an area that's known to be frequented by the desired species.

Life in the Wild

The Malayan tapir is generally a solitary animal, except when a female is rearing a calf. It's occasionally seen travelling with an adult companion, however, as shown in the video above. This companion may be a relative. The animal's preferred habitat is dense forest that has a permanent body of water. It spends most of its time near or in this water.

The tapir is strictly herbivorous. It feeds on leaves, young shoots, fruits, and aquatic vegetation. Most of its feeding is done at night or at dawn and dusk. It has small eyes and poor eyesight, but its hearing and sense of smell are excellent. It finds its food by smell. The animals are known to communicate by whistles that have different pitches and durations.

The tapir creates an intricate network of paths in the forest as it forages for food. Tapirs mark their paths with urine to indicate that they are part of their territory. The stool that they drop contains seeds from the fruits that they've eaten, which enables plants to spread from one area to another.

The Malayan tapir curls up in deep undergrowth during the day to sleep. In this position, its colouration makes it look like a large rock and helps to protect it from an attack. The animal may also take naps during the night.

Escaping From Predators

The tapir has few predators, but it's sometimes attacked by tigers. Its defence mechanisms are its abilities to run, stay underwater for a minute or more, and inflict a serious bite. The animal can run fast and quickly force its way through forest containing thick branches. This type of environment often slows or blocks a tiger's passage. The tapir also has tough skin which acts as a barrier against a predator's teeth.

Reproduction Facts and Calf Features

Malayan tapirs become sexually mature at around three to four years of age. Males mature a bit later than the females. Mating may occur at any time of year.

The mating ritual begins with a courtship in which the male and female circle together, nip each other's bodies, and make a variety of vocalizations. These vocalizations include whistles, clicks, and snorts. Courtship may be quite a lengthy event. When the time is right, the animals mate.

A single baby is born after a long gestation period of thirteen months. The baby is known as a calf. Twins are born very occasionally. A calf is ready to walk soon after birth, which helps it to avoid predators. Its mother won't breed again for eighteen months to two years.

Tapir calves have a very different coat colour and pattern from the adults. When a calf is standing next to its mother, it often looks as though the baby has been paired with the wrong mother. The infants have a brown coat with white stripes and spots. This dappled appearance helps to camouflage them in the filtered light entering the forest understory.

Juvenile Animals

The juvenile markings of a Malayan tapir calf disappear when the youngster is between four and seven months of age. The age at which the calf leaves its mother to live independently is uncertain and seems to be variable. Some calves leave when they are only eight months old. On the other hand, others stay with their mother for a year or more. The tapir may live for more than thirty years, although a maximum age in the twenties seems to be more common.

World Tapir Day occurs on April 27th each year. Its goals are to raise public awareness about tapirs and to raise money for their conservation. It could a good day to draw attention to the animal and its problems.

Population Status of the Malayan Tapir

I've written many articles about endangered animals. When I describe why the animal is endangered, the explanation is nearly always the same—human activity. As the human population continues to increase in size, more and more animals and plants will likely become endangered.

The population status of the Malayan tapir and its relatives is worrying. Malayan tapirs are in trouble due to deforestation in their natural habitat. Forest is being destroyed by logging, by clearance of land for agriculture, and by flooding of land due to the creation of dams for hydroelectric projects. These activities are affecting many other types of animals in many parts of the world.

The tapir is also hunted for meat and its tough hide, but deforestation is having a far more serious effect on its population. Predation by tigers is relatively unimportant in reducing the animal's numbers compared to habitat loss and fragmentation. The tapir's low reproductive rate makes it hard for it to recover from a disaster.

A zoo is not the best environment for an animal.  Some zoos perform useful jobs, however, such as breeding Malayan tapirs.

A zoo is not the best environment for an animal. Some zoos perform useful jobs, however, such as breeding Malayan tapirs.

According to the IUCN, a 2014 assessment (the latest one) showed that only 2,499 mature Malayan tapirs exist and that the population is decreasing. An update about the animal’s status would be useful.

Conservation of the Species

Conservationists are trying to protect the tapir, but the desire of humans to obtain new land is a major problem. Conservation action plans are needed in some areas where the animal lives. Where the plans already exist, they need to be followed.

Zoos are often criticized, but the best ones have at least one useful function. They are sometimes able to breed endangered animals, such as the Malayan tapir. They may also be able to educate the public about the plight of endangered creatures.

The efforts of organizations, groups, and individuals on World Tapir Day may also be helpful. These efforts and others may become very important in the tapir's future.


  • Tapirus indicus information from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (This source calls the species a Malay tapir, but the term Malayan tapir is far more common.)
  • Facts about the Malayan tapir from the Denver Zoo
  • Description of the tapir from the IUCN Tapir Specialist Group
  • World Tapir Day: Facts about the day and the animal from the event's website

© 2015 Linda Crampton


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 05, 2019:

Thank you for the comment, Pooja. I hope you eventually get a chance to work with tapirs.

Pooja Choudhary on July 05, 2019:

i am a young conservationist from India currently working on Tiger, co-predators and their prey at Wildlife Institute of India. Thank you for sharing such an informative and interesting article about Tapir. It's very useful. I wonder if i could get a chance to visit and work on this beautiful and amazing animal.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 04, 2016:

Hi, Alun. Thanks for the visit. I hope the tapir survives in the wild, too. It is lovely to see how happy the tapir is in the video, although it's sad that the animal is living in captivity.

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on February 04, 2016:

Nice to see an article about tapirs Linda - a comparatively little known animal considering its large size, but I guess its secluded jungle habitat and scarcity are responsible for that. They are very unusual creatures aren't they, particulalry this black and white Asian species, and it would be really very sad if they become extinct in the wild. One hopes that conservation efforts to save their environment are stepped up and are successful. At least it was good to see that they can breed in captivity, and it was good in that first video to see one running and swimming and calling in captivity - seemingly a picture of good health. Thanks, Alun

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 12, 2015:

Hi, grand old lady. Thanks for the visit. Some tapirs in zoos allow their keepers to touch them, but the wild animals wouldn't like to be touched. They are interesting animals, though!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 12, 2015:

I never knew that the tapirs are so cute:). I wonder, are they dangerous to humans? Can they be touched and petted?

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 29, 2015:

Hi, tony55. Yes, the tapir does have an unusual appearance! Thanks for the visit.

femi from Nigeria on May 29, 2015:

Strange looking animal would love to see one in the wild or a zoo. Nice

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 27, 2015:

Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, Audrey!

Audrey Howitt from California on May 27, 2015:

Tapirs are such interesting animals--what a great article on them!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 27, 2015:

Thank you for such a kind comment, Catherine. I appreciate the lovely comment, the votes and the share very much!

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on May 27, 2015:

I am not sure I had every hear of a tapir before, but I sure know a lot about it now. The diversity in nature is just amazing. They sure are cute little fellas. This is so well done. Voted up+++ H+

I see your hubber score is 100. I can see why. all of your hubs are great.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 05, 2015:

Thank you for the comment, Akriti.

Akriti Mattu from Shimla, India on May 05, 2015:

Very informative.Thank u for sharing.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 07, 2015:

Thank you, VioletteRose. I appreciate your visit. The tapir is certainly unique!

VioletteRose from Atlanta on April 07, 2015:

I have never heard of Malayan Tapir before. They look very unique and interesting, it is sad to hear that they are endangered. This is really very informative hub, thanks for sharing!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 30, 2015:

I agree, Suhail. Designing a zoo enclosure to fit an animal's lifestyle is very important. Thanks for the comment.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on March 30, 2015:

When I was saw Tapir in Bronx Zoo in 1986 or so, I was surprised to see the animal.

The issue with most zoos I have is their lack of creativity. I wish they could design zoos keeping in mind the nature of wild animals. For example, elephants need to move a lot. They need to design zoos in such a manner that elephants have, perhaps narrow, but very long enclosures. Difficult - yes, impossible - no.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 29, 2015:

Thank you for the comment, vote and share, Carolyn. I appreciate your visit.

Carolyn Emerick on March 29, 2015:

Thank you for bringing this and other endangered creatures to our attention. This was packed full of information. I especially enjoyed the close up of its unusual hooves, and that adorable calf! Upvoted and shared :-)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 12, 2015:

Thanks for the visit and the comment, John. It's very nice to meet you. I'm interested in all animals, including sloths. I agree with you - sloths are definitely underrated!

John Albu from Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87102 on March 12, 2015:

Absolutely adorable animal! It's very sad to see that it's endangered , due to human activity.

By the way, AliciaC - are you into sloths? It would be nice to see you writing about sloths one day! Such an underrated animal, that humans have so much to learn from :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 11, 2015:

Thank you for the visit, Devika. Good zoos do have some advantages.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 11, 2015:

An informative hub zoos certainly has space for certain animals. A worthy place for many helpless creatures.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 03, 2015:

Thanks, Mel. I hope that we can find room for tapirs, too!

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 03, 2015:

I am fascinated that somerhing this big can actually hide so easily in the jungle. Hopefully in his voracious attempt to take over every niche on the planet, man can find a little room for these unusual creatures. Great hub!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 28, 2015:

Thank you, Deb. I wish we didn't need zoos, but they certainly do have their uses.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on February 28, 2015:

Yes, zoos Do have their uses, and it would be wonderful to increase the population of this beautiful animal. Thanks for making awareness live with this article, Alicia.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 20, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Devika.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 20, 2015:

Interesting hub I like reading about the informative ideas you have on mind. Always worth the read. Voted up!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 20, 2015:

Yes, zoos can be very educational. Thank you for the visit, peachpurple.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on February 20, 2015:

Very useful for kids to know that tapir still exists in zoo

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 19, 2015:

Hi, aesta1. Although a tapir isn't closely related to wild boars, I've read that some people refer to it as a "pig with a trunk". I guess they do see the resemblance! Thanks for the visit.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 19, 2015:

I wonder if this is what the locals in Cambodia call wild boars. Now that I know a bit, I can recognize it when I see one. Thanks for the intro to this very interesting Tapir.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 19, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, Bill. I agree - the video of the newborn calf being saved was incredible!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on February 19, 2015:

Hi Linda. What a fascinating creature. I was aware of the South American Tapir but not the Malayan. It's so sad that so many amazing creatures are struggling due to humans. The video of the newborn calf at th Denver Zoo was incredible. Great job, really enjoyed this hub.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 19, 2015:

Thank you very much, Peggy. I appreciate your comment as well as the votes, the pin and the share!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 19, 2015:

I found this hub of yours to be very informative Alicia as all of yours are. It is a shame that the tapir is becoming endangered due to loss of habitat. The videos were interesting and in that first one, the noises made by a tapir are certainly interesting. They can really move quickly! The youngsters and their coloration reminds me of fawns. Many up votes, pinning to my animals board and will share.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 18, 2015:

Thank you for the visit and comment, Peter.

Peter Dickinson from South East Asia on February 18, 2015:

Thank you....nice article.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 18, 2015:

Hi, Martie. I agree - the sound and appearance of a Malayan tapir are very interesting. Thank you for the comment!

Martie Coetser from South Africa on February 18, 2015:

How interesting! The sound made by a tapir is fascinating - almost like a dog's bark - and the colour of their coat, too - giving one the impression that they are wearing a jacket.

Thank you, Alicia, for a very interesting hub about Malayan Tapirs :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 18, 2015:

Thank you, Vellur. I appreciate your visit and your comment.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on February 18, 2015:

Great hub about the Malayan Tapir, learned a lot after reading your interesting and informative article.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 17, 2015:

Thank you very much, Venkatachari. I appreciate your kind comment and your votes a great deal.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on February 17, 2015:

Very great hub. I learned a lot about this animal "Tapir" here from you. Thanks for sharing such rich information and your concern in preserving endangered species.

Voted up and awesome.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 17, 2015:

Thank you so much, Faith. You always write lovely comments, and I always appreciate them! Thank you very much for the votes and the shares. Blessings to you as well.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on February 17, 2015:

Oh, what a precious animal and that mom and baby video is so adorable! It is so sad that they are endangered due to man's devastation of their habitats in the wild. Thank you for this important hub here.

This one should be HOTD no doubt.

Up ++++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

Bless you

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 17, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Carolyn! I know what you mean about the tapir looking almost prehistoric. It's an unusual animal.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 17, 2015:

Hi, Pollyanna. Thank you for the comment. I hope that the tapir is saved from extinction, too. It's a fascinating animal!

Carolyn Emerick on February 17, 2015:

Hi Alicia, what a fascinating animal you have shared with us! The images and videos you chose were fantastic! This is one of those animals that you forget exists until you see pictures of it again, so very rare and not talked about much. It looks almost prehistoric! Upvoted!

Pollyanna Jones from United Kingdom on February 17, 2015:

These are such beautiful and interesting animals. I've never seen one in the flesh, but remember having a mother and calf as part of my toy zoo when I was little, and being fascinated by them. I really hope that they are saved from extinction.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 17, 2015:

I would love to see wild tapirs as well, Patricia. What an exciting experience that would be! I appreciate your comment as well as the votes and the share. Of course, I love the angels, as I always do!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 17, 2015:

I think they're cool too, Larry! Thanks for the comment.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on February 17, 2015:

I have only seen a tapir in one zoo (I do not go to them any longer) but seeing them in the wild would be an experience of a lifetime. Hoping that something can be done to preserve these precious creatures.

Well researched and presented so well.

Thank you Alicia for all of this information about an incredible creature.

Angels are on the way to you to day . ps voted up++++ and shared

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on February 17, 2015:

Tapirs are cool.

Great read!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 16, 2015:

Hi, Jodah. Thank you for commenting. I hope very much that none of the tapir species become extinct, too. We are living in a critical time with respect to animal survival.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on February 16, 2015:

AliciaC, this is another very important hub. I am like you and am so concerned with our changing environment and especially the fate of our animal species like the tapir due to the increasing human population an our ever growing need for more agricultural land and timber products. I have always been intrigued by the tapir and hope beyond hope that none of the five species become extinct.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 16, 2015:

Hi, ArtDiva. Thank you very much for the comment. I appreciate your visit. The attitude of some humans towards the other inhabitants of Earth is very sad.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 16, 2015:

Hi, Jo. Thank you so much for the kind and thoughtful comment. I agree with you - the topics of extinction and the keeping of animals in zoos are difficult to deal with, but they are topics that we mustn't ignore.

ArtDiva on February 16, 2015:

It's so sad seeing how mankind with uncontrolled growth taking over the earth, endangering so many other species in the wake. Good for you, as a writer, creating awareness, educating the public. I had never never seen this specific species with the distinctive "camouflage" pattern.

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on February 16, 2015:

Linda, this is an incredibly detailed and important article. It's unthinkable that so many of the world's animal species are facing extinction due to human over population. I don't like the idea of zoos, but I do see that they may just be the last bastion of hope for some animal species. This is a very emotive and difficult subject but one that we will have to deal with sooner or later. Outstanding article.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 16, 2015:

Thank you very much for the visit and comment, Lee!

Lee John from Preston on February 16, 2015:

Hi Linda Crampton,

What a great hub! They look so different!, really enjoyed reading this!



Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 16, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, Bill, especially so soon after I published the hub and when you have gardening to do! I don't have to mow my lawn yet, but the crocuses are in bloom, which makes me very happy.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2015:

I was just about to stop for the day and go mow the lawn. A bit odd for February, but when it's sixty degrees one does that sort of thing. :)

I'm always interested in hearing about endangered species, and it is so important that writers take the time to raise awareness in articles like this one. I see another HOTD in your future.