Malayan tapirs, also known as the Asian tapirs, are one of the five species of tapirs. Well-known for their unique coloring, they are the only tapir species inhabiting Asia.
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Malayan Tapir Scientific Classification
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Size – 5’11’’-8’2’’ (1.8-2.5 m)
Height – 2’11’’-3’7’’ (90-110 cm)
Weight – 550-710 lbs (250-320 kg)
Color – Black body with a white pelage from the shoulder to the back end. White is also seen in the borders of the ear. Rare cases of melanistic Malayan tapirs, i.e. ones with all-black coloring have been reported in the wild.
Toes – Four (front feet) and three (hind feet).
Sexual Dimorphism – Females larger and heavier than males.
The Malayan tapir can be found in southern Vietnam, southern Myanmar, southern Cambodia, Malay Peninsula, Tak Province of Thailand and south of the Toba Highlands in Sumatra.
They mostly inhabit tropical rain forests, primary forests, secondary forests, jungles, rubber plantations and forest edges. These species of tapirs are even found in open fields and cultivated areas, though rarely.
- Malayan tapirs are mostly solitary animals, though they may congregate at times of food shortages.
- They have territories which they mark by urine-spraying, although they are not fussy about encroachment from other tapirs.
- They usually like being near water bodies, enjoying bathing and swimming.
- They are crepuscular, their active hours being right before sunrise and after sunset.
Mating & Reproduction
Their breeding season lies between May and June, every alternate year, where they form monogamous pairs. Mates introduce themselves with their prospective pairs through scents and visual signals. After choosing their partners, they engage in courtship rituals before copulation. After a gestation period of around 13½ months, a single baby tapir is born, although the birth of twins has also been reported.
The offspring are weaned at around 6 months of age, near about the same time their unique striped and spotted black and white pattern starts to fade. They usually become independent when the mother produces another calf, although some juveniles have been observed lingering even further. They reach sexual maturity at around 2½ years, though males might take a longer time.
A Malayan tapir lives for around 30 years in the wild. In captivity, they have been reported to survive for 36½ years.
They are exclusive herbivores, foraging slowly through the forest for leaves, fruits, and tender shoots of various species of plants.
Sounds & Communication
They communicate mainly through clicks, whistles, and a hiccup-like sound.
- Probably to compensate for their poor eyesight, their senses of smell and hearing are highly acute, helping them to sniff and hear danger and edibles from afar.
- They use their bulk to sink to the river floor and walk across, whereas their lungs are strong enough to help them hold their breaths for up to 90 seconds.
- Their color pattern helps them camouflage with their surroundings, making the task of spotting one a difficult one for predators.
- Their thick skin (0.98 inches) near the nape and back of the head is thought to be a protection against attacks from big cat predators.
- They are one of the few mammals to display the flehmen response, wherein an individual curl back its upper lip, revealing its front teeth, closes the nostrils and inhales, holding the position for a few seconds. This helps in better reception of pheromones and other smells through the vomeronasal organ, which is located on the roof of the mouth.
Because of the Malayan tapir’s size, camouflage and running speeds, no animals other than leopards and tigers, including the Sumatran and Malayan tiger are known to prey on them in their respective ranges.
IUCN Conservation Status
The Malayan tapir has been conferred the ‘Endangered’ status by IUCN Red List.
Why is the Malayan tapir endangered
Habitat destruction is one of the principal causes for their population decline, taking them close to extinction. They are also routinely hunted for food across most of their habitat, except in the island of Sumatra, where the human population considers tapir meat taboo because of their religious beliefs. Conservation efforts are, however, underway to bring Asia’s only tapir species to a point where their population thrives.
- They play an important ecosystem role by dispersing seeds of the fruits that form part of their diet over great distances.
- The closest relatives of all tapirs, including the Malayan species, are ungulates like donkeys, horses, and rhinoceroses.
- The Malayan tapir was ignominiously portrayed in the 2014 video game, Far Cry 4, where they must be killed, and their skin used to craft weapon holsters.