The genus Tapirus has four extant species; three Neotropical species: Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii) in Central America,  the mountain tapir (T. pinchaque) in the Andes’ central mountains, and the lowland tapir (T. terrestris) occupying the widest distribution, from Venezuela to northern Argentina, and from the Brazilian Atlantic forest to the Ecuadorian sub-Andean foothills. The Malay tapir (T. indicus) is found in South Asia. 

 Lowland tapir Tapirus terrestris

"Tapirus terrestris". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -

Tapirs originated 50 million years ago and have chnage little in appearance in the last 35 million years. The genus Tapirus can be traced back to at least 8 million years ago. Prehistoric tapirs inhabited Europe, North America and south-east Asia.  Tapirs are odd-toed ungulates, a group that also includes rhinos and horses, with tapirs most closely related to rhinos.

Bairds tapir foot

"Bairds-Tapir-Foot" by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen - Own work by uploader, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Of the four tapir species which survive today, three were found in Central America and two migrated to South America across the Panamanian Land Bridge 2 to 3 million years ago. The fourth species, the Malayan tapir, remains in south-east Asia.


Bairds tapir

"Central American Tapir-Belize20". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -


Baird’s tapirs weigh 150-320 kg, have a shoulder height of 73-120 cm, head and body length of 80-250 cm, and a tail length of 5-13 cm. The proboscis probably did not develop until the last few million years.


Baird’s tapir was once abundant throughout Central America, from southeast Mexico to Panama and northwest Colombia. It is now extinct in parts of its former range (e.g. El Salvador) and persists in relatively small numbers in pockets of remaining habitat in Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama. Baird's tapir is locally abundant in some regions of Belize.


Population Estimate


Fewer than 5,000.




Classified as Endangered (EN A2abcd+3bce) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and listed on Appendix I of CITES.



They is generally found in humid habitats, from sea level to 3,600 m. Baird's tapirs inhabit a wide variety of habitats, including tropical forests, woodlands, grasslands and marshes. The main requirement appears to be a permanent water supply.


Baird's tapirs are shy, quiet animals that generally shelter in forests or thickets during the day. They emerge at night to browse in forest clearings on a variety of leaves, twigs, fruit and seeds. Tapirs possess micro-organisms in their guts to digest plant material, and they must eat a large amount of food daily. They are very agile, moving well in both closed and open habitats, and negotiate steep slopes with ease. They are able swimmers and frequently wallow in streams or rivers during the day. When disturbed they often seek cover underwater.


Baird's tapirs are thought to live alone or in small family groups, and maintain partially overlapping home ranges. They regularly mark thier tracks with urine and also communicate by emitting shrill whistling calls.




Births occur throughout the year, with the females generally giving birth to a single, or occasionally two, young after a 13 month gestation period; young tapirs stay with their mother for up to 2 years.




The main threats to  Baird's tapirs are from habitat destruction and hunting. Around 70% of Central American forests have beendeforestated or alterated over the last 40 years, with almost all forest cleared in El Salvador, in contrast to Belize which still retains 70% forest.The low reproductive rate of  Baird's tapirsmeans that they are particularly vulnerable to hunting.




Baird's tapirs are protected throughout their range in Belize, and are the national animal of Belize. However, hunting laws are poorly enforced in some areas. Conservation efforts should focus on maintaining the species' habitat and preventing hunting. There is some evidence to suggest that tapirs may be able to withstand selective logging in certain areas.


The IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group Action Plan recommendations include carrying out surveys to determine the status and location of remaining populations, the protection of habitat, and the monitoring and regulation of hunting.


The Tapir Preservation Fund was established in 1996 to promote tapir research and conservation. This organisation, together with the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group (TSG) and several American and European zoos, is working on developing and implementing tapir research, conservation and management programmes.



Brooks, D. M., Bodmer, R. E. and Matola, S. 1997. Tapirs - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. (English, Spanish, Portuguese) IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Castellanos, A., Foerester, C., Lizcano, D.J., Naranjo, E., Cruz-Aldan, E., Lira-Torres, I., Samudio, R., Matola, S., Schipper, J. & Gonzalez-Maya. J. 2008. Tapirus bairdii. In: 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. Downloaded on 12 November 2010.