Lowland tapir, South American tapir, Anta, Amazonian tapir
Brazilian tapir is a species of rhinocero family with a characteristic fleshy trunk, which prehensile and able to grasp objects such as leaves. The trunk of this animal also serves as a snorkel, when the tapir swims. Brazilian tapir was recognized as a separate species in 1758 by Western scientists. Otherwise known as Lowland or South American, this animal is endemic to South American forests. This large mammal currently has the largest area of distribution among all tapirs and is the least threatened species of its genus, which is made up of odd-toed ungulates. The latter exhibit 3 toes on each of their hind feet and 4 toes on either forefoot.
The natural range of this species covers most of continental South America, stretching east of the Andes. Brazilian tapir geographically occurs from northern Colombia to southern Brazil to northern Argentina and Paraguay as well as in Venezuela, the Guyanas, eastern Peru, and northern and eastern parts of Bolivia. Preferred habitat of this species is moist, lowland rainforest with a constant source of water. However, these mammals have been seen in a wide variety of habitats. Additionally, populations in certain areas travel to higher elevations by the rainy season.
Habits and lifestyle
Brazilian tapirs generally lead solitary lifestyle, except for the mating season, when they live in pairs as well as mothers and their young, who often travel together. They are mostly nocturnal, spending their daytime hours in shelters, located in the forest. During the night, they leave these shelters to find food. Despite the poor eyesight, these animals perceive their environment through a highly-developed olfactory perception. Brazilian tapirs are generally shy and peaceful animals. However, they are known to display a considerably aggressive behavior when defending their mating rights and home ranges. Communication between conspecifics generally occurs through vocalizations. Brazilian tapirs emit several noises, one of which is the shrieking noise, displaying threat, distress or pain. During the reproductive season, they can often be heard producing clicking sounds, through which they identify themselves to each other. Aggressive attitude is expressed by nasal snorting sound, whereas the puffing sound displays irritation.
Diet and nutrition
Brazilian tapirs are herbivores (folivores and frugivores), their diet is generally composed of plant material such as fruits, leaves, buds and shoots. These mammals are known to particularly favor mombin fruits, resembling large plums. They also enjoy large huito fruits, similar to berries as well as fruits of the moriche palm.
There is no information on the reproductive system of this species. However, they may be polygynous, since males are known to defend their mating rights, which they do by biting each other on the feet. Breeding occur throughout the year. Gestation period lasts for 335 - 439 days with an average of 380. Females produce a single baby, weighing 3.2 - 5.8 kg. During the first 6 - 10 months of its life, the young tapir is nursed by its mother. Independence is reached at 1.5 years old. Females are ready to produce offspring of their own within 2 - 3 years at birth. There has been known a case of 28 years old captive female, yielding offspring. This is the oldest recorded female of this species to give birth.
The biggest threats to the population of this vulnerable species are excessive hunting, harsh competition with livestock as well as deforestation, leading to loss of their natural habitat. Brazilian tapirs are officially protected by the government. Within their range, there are a number of protected areas, where these animals live. Nevertheless, they are still exposed to hunting.
No estimate of population size is available for Brazilian tapirs. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) by the IUCN Red List and its numbers continue to decrease.
Due to their fruit-based diet, these animals serve as important seed dispersers of numerous fuirt-bearing plants they consume, as seeds of some fruits (e.g. assai palms and epena) remain undamaged after digestion.
Fun facts for kids
- When facing a predator, the Brazilian tapir will flee and dive into the water. This animal is an excellent diver, remaining deep under the surface until the predator leaves. Additionally, this mammal is an accomplished swimmer. When foraging, it often moves along the bottom of riverbeds.
- Tapirs in general are called 'umbrella' animals in a sense that they usually occupy large territories, thus indirectly protecting many other animal species of the area.
- A tapir group is referred to as a 'candle'.
- Newborn babies of this genus exhibit dappled spots on their body, which serve as ideal camouflage. These markings disappear by 6 months old, after which the young tapirs gain their adult appearance.
- Tapir species are known to be accomplished swimmers and divers. When foraging, they use these abilities, submerging underwater to find aquatic vegetation, which they consume.
- These animals are occasionally referred to as 'living fossils' due to their close resemblance to their extinct relatives.