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Episode 216: A Relic, the Malayan Tapir

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This week we talk about one of the world’s oldest mammals, the Tapir. Specifically, we focus on the Malayan Tapir. The Tapirs are fascinating animals that have changed little over the past 30 million years. What makes them even more intriguing is, the Malayan Tapir lives in South East Asia, whereas the other species of Tapir live in Central and South America. While they have diverged nearly 20 million years ago, they differ little in their body composition or behaviors. We had so much fun chatting about these rather large herbivores. Sadly, all the species of Tapir are in serious decline and heading towards extinction. They are well worth learning about and fighting for.

Malayan Tapir History

The Tapirs are some of the oldest mammals on the planet. They first emerged around 30 million years ago and have not changed much at all over that time. They are often referred to as a “living fossil.” What is fascinating about Tapirs is that the Malayan Tapir is from Southeast Asia, whereas the remaining species of Tapir all live in Central and South America. They diverged roughly 20 million years ago, YET they differ little in physical appearance and behavior.

Tapirs belong to the Order Perissodactyla, or the odd-toed ungulates. This Order also includes the equids (zebra, horse, wild ass, donkey) and rhinoceros. They all share a common ancestor that dates back 55 million years. Tapirs belong to the family Taproidea.


Malayan Tapir Facts

Malayan Tapirs can live up to 30 years in the wild and 36 years under human care. They are quite fast and can run up to 30 MPH (50 kph). They also are agile swimmers.

Tapirs are rather large and can up to 8 feet (2.5 m) in length and weigh up to 1200 lbs (540 kg). What makes Tapirs so unique is their nose, or their short prehensile trunk. They often use it like elephants do, to grab leaves off branches, small twigs, or other food items. Also when swimming, they can use their noses like a snorkel to help breath.

Tapirs are so critical to their environments they live in. They are large herbivores and eat a variety of plants and fruits. They serve a key role in helping to spread seeds over great distances.

Tapir Conservation

All species of Tapirs are endangered and heading towards extinction.

Malayan Tapir- estimated less than 3000 left

Baird’s Tapir- fewer than 5500 left

Mountain Tapir- fewer than 2500

A major pressure for the Malayan Tapir is the expansion of Palm Oil Plantations.

You can learn more about by visiting the World Wildlife Fund’s Palm Oil Scorecard Page




April 28, 2021
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