Malayan Tapir

Malayan Tapir

Asian tarpir, Asian tapir, Asiatic tapir, Indian tapir

Tapirus indicus
Population size
Life Span
30-36.5 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 
m ft 

The Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus) (otherwise known as Asian tapir) is the only living species of Old World tapir. There are only 4 tapir species around the globe, and this animal is the largest of them. Meanwhile, the Asian tapir is the most evolutionarily distinct tapir in the world. This mammal is very shy by nature, hiding from human disturbance in interior areas of its forest habitat. Hence, the animal is difficult to come across in the wild.


The Malayan tapir is easily identified by its markings, most notably the light-colored patch that extends from its shoulders to its hindquarters. It is covered in black hair, except for the tips of its ears, which, as with other tapirs, are rimmed with white. The pattern is for camouflage; the disrupted coloration breaks up its outline and makes it more difficult to recognize; other animals may mistake it for a large rock, rather than prey when it is lying down to sleep. The females are usually larger than the males. Like other tapir species, it has a small, stubby tail and a long, flexible proboscis. It has four toes on each front foot and three toes on each back foot. The Malayan tapir has rather poor eyesight, but excellent hearing and sense of smell. It has a large sagittal crest, a bone running along the middle of the skull that is necessary for muscle attachment. It also possesses unusually positioned orbits, an unusually shaped cranium with the frontal bones elevated, and a retracted nasal incision. These adaptations evolved to support the proboscis. This proboscis caused a retraction of bones and cartilage in the face during the evolution of the tapir and even caused the loss of some cartilages, facial muscles, and the bony wall of the nasal chamber.




Biogeographical realms

The natural range of this species is now heavily fragmented, occupying parts of south-eastern Asia, from southern Myanmar to south-western Thailand, Malaysia as well as from the Malay Peninsula to Sumatra. Within this territory, Malayan tapirs occur in a wide range of habitats from lowland and hill forests and montane cloud forests to alpine scrubland and grassy openings. They inhabit primary and secondary degraded forests with a constant source of water.

Malayan Tapir habitat map

Climate zones

Malayan Tapir habitat map
Malayan Tapir
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Habits and Lifestyle

Malayan tapirs are commonly considered nocturnal creatures, resting by day and being active by night. However, those in undisturbed forests tend to lead a crepuscular lifestyle. Tapirs in the wild generally prefer living solitarily but may gather in groups when food supplies are scarce. Asian tapirs are very agile creatures. They are fast runners and accomplished climbers, easily getting over steep terrains. These unique animals display amazing swimming and diving abilities, walking deep along the bottom of rivers. They are capable of remaining submerged for up to 90 seconds. The communication system of tapirs includes vocalizations such as whistles, clicks, and hiccup-like calls. They typically use these sounds when mating, threatened, or in pain as well as to settle down conflicts. In addition, certain calls serve as warning signals, addressed to community members.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Malayan tapirs have a herbivorous (frugivorous (fruit-based), folivorous (leaf-based), and lignivorous (wood-based)) diet. Typical types of food are leaves, buds, growing twigs, tree bark, herbs, low-growing succulents, shrubs, fruits, club moss, grass, tubers as well as aquatic vegetation.

Mating Habits

13-13.5 mont
1 calf
1 year

Malayan tapirs exhibit a monogamous mating system, where each individual has only one mate during the reproductive season, which occurs in May-June. Females yield a single calf (rarely twins) every 2 years, after 390 - 410 days of gestation. Malayan tapirs grow very quickly! Thus, if the newborn baby is healthy, it will be able to stand during the first 1-2 hours of its life. The mother begins to suckle its young within 2-5 hours of birth. At about 2 weeks old, the calf starts taking solid food. By 3 weeks old, the young tapir is ready to swim. Weaning occurs at 6-8 months old, although calves continue living near their mothers until 1 year old. Young tapirs are able to reproduce at about 3 years old.


Population threats

Asian tapirs currently suffer from large-scale habitat loss, as a result of various human activities, including agricultural development, cattle grazing, and logging. On the other hand, hydroelectric projects often cause flooding within the natural range of this species. Malayan tapirs attract hunters for their meat as well as for sport. The thick and rough skin of these mammals serves as material for bridles and whips. Further, Malayan tapirs are sometimes captured in steel wire snares, intended to catch wild pigs. And finally, all the above-mentioned factors are compounded by a very low birth rate and heavily fragmented range. As a result, isolated populations are unable to recover losses and are exposed to hunting.

Population number

The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Malayan tapir total population. According to the IUCN Red List, there are less than 400-500 adult individuals in Sumatra; less than 250 adult individuals in Thailand/Myanmar (around 50-100 of which occur in Thailand); approximately 1,300-1,700 individuals in Malaysia. Overall, Malayan tapirs are currently classified as Endangered (EN) and their numbers continue to decrease.

Ecological niche

Due to their frugivorous diet, Malayan tapirs act as important seed dispersers of numerous fruit-bearing plants they consume. Additionally, they disperse certain plant communities.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Species of this genus are among the world's most primitive mammals, closely related to horses and rhinoceroses.
  • Asian tapirs are excellent swimmers and divers, capable of walking along the bottoms of rivers, just like a hippopotamus.
  • Tapirs almost haven't changed externally during the last 20 million years.
  • When diving, tapirs use their flexible nose as a snorkel, helping them to breathe underwater.
  • Tapirs in Thailand are referred to as “P'som-sett", literally translated as "mixture is finished." These animals are so-called due to a common belief, according to which they were made from leftover parts of other animals.
  • "Tapir" is a Brazilian Indian word, meaning "thick". And indeed, species of this genus exhibit rather solid and tough hides.

Coloring Pages


1. Malayan Tapir Wikipedia article -
2. Malayan Tapir on The IUCN Red List site -

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