BAIRD'S TAPIR SPECIES PROFILE
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.
Baird’s tapirs are the largest native mammal in
Central America and has changed very little in apperance in the last 35 million years and its origin can be
traced back for 50 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. Of the four species which
survive today, three migrated from Central to South America across the Panamanian Land Bridge 2-3 million
years ago. The fourth species, the Malayan tapir, remains in south-east Asia. the proboscis probably did not
develop until the last few million years.
Tapirs are odd-toed ungulates, a group that
also includes rhinos and horses, with tapirs most closely related to rhinos. 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
The species 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.
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.
Baird's tapirs inhabit a
wide variety of habitats, including tropical forests, woodlands, grasslands and marshes. It is
generally found in humid habitats, from sea level to 3,600 m. The main requirement appears to be a permanent water
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
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 with urine and also communicate by emitting shrill whistling
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
The main threats to
Baird's tapirs are from habitat destruction and hunting. Around 70%
of Central American forests have been deforestated 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 tapirs means that they are particularly vulnerable to
tapirs are protected
throughout their range, and are the national symbol of Belize. However, hunting laws are poorly
enforced in many areas. The species
occurs in several protected areas throughout its range.
Conservation efforts should focus on maintaining the species'
habitat. There is some evidence to suggest that tapirs may be able to withstand selective logging in certain
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
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.