Historically, Baird’s tapirs ranged from southeastern Mexico through northern Columbia to the Gulf of Guayaquil in Ecuador. Today they are found in isolated populations in the same range. They are considered extinct in El Salvador. (Hernandez-Divers, et al., 2005; Terwilliger, 1978)
Baird’s tapirs are found in most vegetation types at elevations ranging from sea level to 3,600 meters. They are found in marsh and swamp areas, mangroves, wet tropical rainforests, riparian woodlands, monsoon deciduous forests, montane cloud forests, and paramo (treeless alpine plateau). Food and water availability are important factors in habitat selection. When both primary and secondary forest habitat is available, Baird’s tapirs prefer secondary forest due to the increase in understory plants for foraging and protection. (Foerster and Vaughan, 2002; Castellanos, et al., 2008)
Baird’s tapirs are the largest native terrestrial mammals in the Neotropics and the largest of the four living tapir species. About the size of small donkeys, Baird’s tapirs typically weigh between 150 to 300 kilograms. They are dark brown to reddish brown above and paler below with white fringes around their large ears, white lips, and sometimes a white patch on the throat and chest. Their fur is bristly and “piglike.” Baird’s tapirs are well muscled. A long, narrow mane is present but is not always conspicuous. Tapirs have short, slender legs, making them well adapted to rapid movement through underbrush. The snout and upper lips are projected forwards to form a short, fleshy proboscis, which is used for finding food and for detecting tactile stimuli. Their eyes are small and flush with the side of their head while their ears are large, erect, oval, and not very mobile. The forefoot has three main digits and one smaller one while the hind foot has only three digits. Females have a single pair of mammae located in the groin region. Body measurements are as follows: head and body length - 180 to 250 cm, tail length - 5 to 13 cm, shoulder height - 73 to 120 cm. (Foerster and Vaughan, 2002; Nowak, 1999; Sanderson, 1961; Terwilliger, 1978)
Due to the seasonal stability of their habitat, it has been suggested that Tapirus bairdii individuals form long-term monogamous pairs in which the pairs defend a territory. The sex ratio of males to females is 1 to 1. (Foerster and Vaughan, 2002; Naranjo and Bodmer, 2007)
Baird’s tapirs can breed anytime of the year, although breeding may be more common just prior to rainy seasons, as in their close relative T. terrestris. The gestation period is 390 to 400 days. Litter size is one with an average birth mass of 9.4 kg. The average number of litters per year for a T. bairdii female is 0.7. Weaning occurs after one year. Age of sexual maturity is not known for T. bairdii. Malayan tapirs (Tapirus indicus), a Southeast Asian tapir species, mature at three years and Brazilian tapirs (T. terrestris) have been known to conceive as early as 23 months and given birth as old as 28 years. The age structure of T. bairdii populations is approximately 82% adults, 12% juveniles, and 6% young. The proportion of young individuals increases in persistently hunted areas. (Carter, 1984; de Magalhaes, et al., 2005; Lekagul and McNeely, 1977; Naranjo and Bodmer, 2007; Terwilliger, 1978)
Offspring remain with their mothers for one to two years. Both parents play a role in raising the young, as the family unit moves and sleeps together. The mother will guide the young by utilizing a nudging motion with her proboscis. (Foerster and Vaughan, 2002; Nowak, 1999)
Little is known about the longevity of Tapirus bairdii in the wild, but a wild-born animal lived to be 29.6 years in captivity. Furthermore, a captive T. terrestris lived to be 35 years old. (de Magalhaes, et al., 2005; Nowak, 1999)
Baird’s tapirs are largely nocturnal but can be active during the day as well. Due to their large body size, Baird’s tapirs have difficulty dissipating heat. Nocturnal behavior is thought to be an adaptation to avoid the hottest times of the day. Baird’s tapirs become more active at night in areas where they are frequently hunted. In areas where there is a dry and wet season, Baird’s tapirs will sleep in freshwater wallowing holes during the dry season and typically sleep within 20 meters of a water source during the wet season. These wallowing holes can be several inches deep and they sleep on their stomach with their head placed on their two front feet. Tapirs do not limit themselves to one sleeping hole but will return to a sleeping area more than once. Baird’s tapirs are excellent runners, sliders, waders, divers, and swimmers and are very agile in or under water and in open or closed habitats. Baird’s tapirs are largely solitary animals and are normally found at low densities. In southern Mexico, the density of T. bairdii was estimated to be 0.24 individuals per square kilometer in areas where there was low hunting pressure and 0.05 tapirs per square kilometer in persistently hunted areas. However, densities can reach up to 0.8 individual per square kilometer in areas with lush vegetation. Although Baird’s tapirs are largely solitary and typically feed alone, social interactions are often observed. Individuals have been observed feeding together on occasion and even exchanging non-threatening physical contact. They have also been observed charging each other, but the charges rarely last for more than a few seconds. (Foerster and Vaughan, 2002; Hernandez-Divers, et al., 2005; Terwilliger, 1978; Tobler, 2002)
Home range size for Tapirus bairdii differs greatly between regions and habitats. Home range estimates have ranged from 1.25 square kilometers in a lowland tropical forest in Costa Rica to 1.70 square kilometers in a dry tropical rain forest also in Costa Rica. In areas where there is a wet and dry season, home range size and placement differs little between the seasons. Furthermore, home ranges often overlap with adjacent tapirs (average overlap of 32.5 hectares in lowland tropical forests) due to family unit territories and seasonal production of fruit. Tapirs mark their territory boundaries with urine. Trails are often formed within home ranges, especially in areas of dense vegetation and between streams. (Eisenberg, et al., 1987; Foerster and Vaughan, 2002; Naranjo and Bodmer, 2007; Nowak, 1999; Williams, 1984)
Baird’s tapirs are largely solitary animals and few vocal communications are known. All of observations detailed in this section were recorded at Barro Colorado Island in Panama. The most well-know noise is a continuous whistling sound, typically followed by a similar sound from a nearby tapir. They also make a sound similar to a repeated hiccup, which is though to be related to agitation. Immature tapirs will often emit high-pitched squeaks when frightened or ready to bolt. Mothers that have been separated from their young have been observed emitting loud snore-like breaths until they were reunited with their young. The most important senses to Baird’s tapirs are smell and hearing, both of which are used in finding food and detecting threats. They also locate nearby tapirs by smell. The eyes are small and sight does not seem to be an important mode of perception. (Terwilliger, 1978)
Baird’s tapirs are strict herbivores, foraging from the forest floor to 1.5 meters above ground. Leaves from a variety of plant species provide the bulk of their diet, but they also eat fruits, twigs, flowers, sedges, and grasses. Fruits from several plant species seem to be preferred when they are in season, but the total amount of fruit eaten varies by habitat. Dietary composition of plant species also varies by season, with some species eaten during certain times of the year but avoided at others. The presence of armor or biting ants on a plant does not deter them from consuming that plant. Baird’s tapirs spend most of their waking hours foraging in a zig-zag pattern. They forage in one of three patterns: 1) feed on several species in a small area, 2) feed only on a single species within a small area, or 3) grab and eat various plants while moving to another area. Tapirs prefer plant species of medium to tall height, but the only plants that are completely avoided are small, widely spaced seedlings and large canopy-level trees. In general, Baird’s tapirs will move to another plant before all of the leaves are consumed on the one it is currently eating. They typically feed in large treefalls or secondary forest because of the high density of understory plants which are generally highly digestible and have few defensive toxins. Occasionally they will rise on their hind feet to reach leaves beyond their normal reach or knock down slender or dead plants to get fruit or leaves. The assimilation of nutrients seems to be poor based on the large overall volume and significant amount of recognizable plant parts in T. bairdii feces. (Foerster and Vaughan, 2002; Terwilliger, 1978; Tobler, 2002)
The most significant predator of Tapirus bairdii is humans, but pumas (Puma concolor) are potential predators of young tapirs. Baird’s tapirs rely largely on camouflage and their large size for protection against predators: at night they blend in extremely well with leafy shrubs, during the day they resemble stationary objects, such as large rocks. (Terwilliger, 1978)
In some habitats, Baird’s tapirs are important seed dispersers. However, because the amount of fruit consumed varies by habitat and region, this role varies as well. It has also been suggested that T. bairdii is an important species for indicating the overall health of Neotropical rain forests because of their rarity and sensitivity to disturbance. (Foerster and Vaughan, 2002)
Historically, Baird’s tapirs were an important food source for rural and indigenous people across Central America. Their rarity makes them no longer a significant game animal. They are large, charismatic animals that can attract ecotourism interest because of their association with pristine tropical forest habitats. (Foerster and Vaughan, 2002; Norton and Ashley, 2004)
Infectious diseases and parasites that originated in domestic cattle and horses have been found in Tapirus bairdii in southern Mexico and T. bairdii could serve as a carrier of these diseases to new areas. Tapirs also sometimes forage in agricultural areas and have been known to damage corn and other grains. However, this is rare because tapirs generally avoid human-disturbed areas and are few in number. Baird’s tapirs often defecate in water and have the potential to affect human water sources downstream, although their rarity makes this a small problem. (Castellanos, et al., 2008; Nowak, 1999; Terwilliger, 1978)
Tapirus bairdii is listed as an endangered species with a decreasing population trend on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The endangered status is based on ongoing and future population declines due to loss of habitat, fragmentation, and hunting pressure. It is estimated that approximately 70% of Central American forests have been destroyed in the past 40 years. In addition, T. bairdii is especially at risk of population fragmentation because they exist solely within the narrow Central American isthmus. Hunting pressure is especially harmful to T. bairdii populations due to their low reproductive rates. Infectious disease may also contribute to future declines, especially in areas where tapirs are found near domestic cattle. Based on population density and distribution, T. bairdii is listed as the tenth rarest Neotropical forest mammal. The current overall population estimate is less than 5,000 mature individuals. Along with protecting habitat and reducing hunting pressure, management strategies include protecting the quality of freshwater sources and providing a mix of primary and secondary forest habitats. ("2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2008; Dobson and Jinping, 1993; Foerster and Vaughan, 2002; Castellanos, et al., 2008; Naranjo and Bodmer, 2007; Norton and Ashley, 2004)
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Jeffrey Wells (author), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Link Olson (editor, instructor), University of Alaska Fairbanks.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
active at dawn and dusk
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
an animal that mainly eats fruit
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.
uses touch to communicate
Living on the ground.
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
breeding takes place throughout the year
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