The Mountain tapir is a rarely found mammal, endemic to a tiny natural range in high altitudes of the Andes. It's one of the four tapir species. The animal is the smallest and most endangered species of its genus. An alternative name of this tapir is the Woolly tapir due to its thick and woolly coat, which keeps the animal warm, when the temperature drops during the night. As all tapir species, the Mountain tapir exhibits a prehensile tail, which acts as a fifth limb, grasping objects such as leaves.
The natural range of this species covers high altitudes of the Andes throughout the north-west of South America. Additionally, small populations occur in north-western Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. Preferred types of habitat are mid-level and high-level montane cloud forests, alpine meadows and páramo grasslands, otherwise called "treeless moorland".
Habits and lifestyle
The Mountain tapirs are shy by nature and hence, difficult to spot in the wild. When disturbed, these animals typically flee to their shelters. The Mountain tapirs are accomplished swimmers. When diving, they are capable of staying underwater for up to several minutes before coming to the surface. When threatened, they often dive, using their nose as a snorkel, helping them breathe while hiding from a predator. Periods of increased activity are dusk and dawn. The daytime hours are typically spent resting in areas of dense vegetation or wallowing in water or mud. These animals were formerly thought to lead solitary lifestyle. However, studies have shown that they either live in pairs or form small family units. Their home ranges may occasionally overlap. Additionally, larger concentrations of the Mountain tapirs may sometimes be seen at salt-licks. Primary forms of communication are vocalizations such as shrill whistles as well as scent marking such as urinating on paths across their territories.
Diet and nutrition
The Mountain tapirs are known to maintain herbivorous diet, generally consisting of grass, seeds as well as different tough, fibrous shrub leaves.
Little is known about the mating system of the Mountain tapirs. However, males often fight for a female and do not participate in raising young, suggesting that these animals exhibit polygynous mating system. Nevertheless, lifelong pairs are sometimes formed. Breeding occurs just prior the rainy season, while females yield offspring in the beginning of the following year's rainy season. A single baby (rarely twins) is born after 13 months of gestation. The newborn tapir weighs approximately 4 - 7 kg. During the first week of its life, the baby lives in a secluded place, after which it begins to follow its mother. Nursing period usually lasts for 6 months. However, after weaning, calves will continue living with their mother for additional 6 months. Reproductive maturity is reached within 3 - 4 years at birth.
The Mountain tapirs are primarily threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation. For example, they currently face destruction of páramo and cloud forests of their range: these are tropical mountain forests with a year-round, high-incidence cloud cover. The Mountain tapirs are also illegally hunted for their meat as well as certain parts of their body, which are used in traditional medicine. And finally, they heavily suffer from introduction of livestock, which carry various diseases and increases predation within their range.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Mountain tapirs is estimated to be less than 2,500 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Endangered (EN) and its numbers continue to decrease.
The Mountain tapirs are key seed dispersers of some plants throughout northern Andes. In addition, due to breaking branches and turning over their "trunks", they provide smaller herbivorous animals of their range with suitable food.
Fun facts for kids
- Being accomplished climbers, Mountain tapirs easily get over steep mountain slopes, snow banks and glaciers.
- Tapirs are closely related to horses and rhinos, with which they share a number of similar behaviors.
- As for the Mountain tapir, this species was originally discovered in the eastern Andes of Colombia by the French naturalist Roulin.
- The highly-developed sense of smell allows them to perceive lettuce leaves from yards away.
- These mammals are thought to smell like a lettuce crate.
- Newborn babies of this species are said to resemble "striped watermelons on legs".
- One of their favorite types of food is banana.