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| Tapirus indicus |
The Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus), also called the Asian Tapir, is the largest of the four species of tapir and the only one native to Asia. The scientific name is somewhat misleading, as the Tapirus indicus is not native to India.
General Appearance and Characteristics
The animal is easily identified by its markings, most notably the light-colored “saddle” which extends from its shoulders to its rump. The rest of its hair is black, except for the tips of its ears which, as with other tapirs, are rimmed with white. This pattern is for camouflage: the disrupted coloration makes it more difficult to recognize it as a tapir, and other animals may mistake it for a large rock rather than a form of prey when it is lying down to sleep.
Malayan Tapirs grow to between 6 and 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m) in length, stand 3 to 3.5 feet (90 to 107 cm) tall, and typically weigh between 550 and 700 pounds (250 to 320 kg), although they can weigh upwards of 900 pounds (410 kg) on occasion. The females are usually larger than the males. Like the other types of tapir, they have small stubby tails and long, flexible proboscises. They have 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.
The gestation period of the Malayan Tapir is approximately 400 days, after which a single offspring, weighing around 15 pounds (6.8 kg), is born. Young tapirs of all species have brown hair with white stripes and spots, a pattern with enables them to hide effectively in the dappled light of the forest. This baby coat fades into adult coloration between four and seven months after birth. Weaning occurs between between six and eight months of age, at which time the babies are nearly full-grown, and the animals reach sexual maturity around age three. Breeding typically occurs in April, May or June, and females generally produce one calf every two years. Malayan Tapirs can live up to 30 years, both in the wild and in zoos.
Malayan Tapirs are primarily solitary creatures, marking out large tracts of land as their territory, though these areas usually overlap with those of other individuals. Tapirs mark out their territories by spraying urine on plants, and they often follow distinct paths which they have bulldozed through the undergrowth.
Exclusively vegetarian, the animal forages for the tender shoots and leaves of more than 100 species of plants (though it prefers around 30), moving slowly through the forest and pausing often to eat and note the scents left behind by other tapirs in the area. However, when threatened or frightened, the tapir can run quickly, despite its considerable bulk, and they can also defend themselves with their strong jaws and sharp teeth. Malayan Tapirs communicate with high-pitched squeaks and whistles. They usually prefer to live near water and often bathe and swim, and they are also able to climb steep slopes. Tapirs are mainly active at night, though they are not exclusively nocturnal. They tend to eat soon after sunset or before sunrise, and they will often nap in the middle of the night. This type of behavior characterizes them as crepuscular animals.
Habitat, Predation, and Vulnerability
The Malayan Tapir was once found throughout the tropical lowland rainforests of Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Vietnam. Due to human activity, especially deforestation for agricultural purposes as well as poaching and illegal trade, its habitat and numbers have decreased in recent years and, like all tapirs, it is in danger of extinction.
The species is officially recognized as “Vulnerable” under the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. The exact number of Malayan Tapirs left in the wild is unknown, but many scientists estimate that there are approximately 3000 individuals left in the wild and 200 in zoos worldwide. Tapirs are rarely hunted by animals other than humans, because their tough skin and good defenses make it difficult to harm a healthy adult. Leopards and tigers may attack calves, old adults, or ill individuals, but for the most part the threat to tapirs comes from humans.
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