Tapirus terrestrisBrazilian tapir(Also: South American tapir)

Geographic Range

Tapirus terrestris can be found predominantly in Brazil, but its range covers much of South America’s tropical forests. It ranges from northern Argentina to Venezuela, but is absent from Chile and locations west of the Andean Cordillera. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Norton and Ashley, 2004; Nowak, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)


Brazilian tapirs prefer tropical montane forests, but are also present in swamps and lowland forests. It can be found from sea level up to 4500 meters in elevation. They are adept mountain climbers and sometimes create paths to larger bodies of water. They prefer to live close to water, especially rivers, and are comfortable swimmers. The highest population densities are found in areas with lush vegetation and 2,000 to 4,000 mm of rainfall per year. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Husson, 1978; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 4500 m
    0.00 to 14763.78 ft

Physical Description

Adult mass of Brazilian tapirs ranges from 150 to 250 kg. Shoulder height varies from 77 cm to 108 cm, while body length can reach 221 cm in females and 204 cm in males. Their skulls have a prominent sagittal crest that gives the top of the head a humplike projection extending from the eyes to the neck, and a short mane follows the sagittal crest projection. Adults are dark brown to red, and juveniles are brown with horizontal white stripes, which fade after seven months. Brazilian tapirs have hooves and a pronounced proboscis. The proboscis is made up entirely of soft tissue, and the snout has significantly reduced bone and cartilage compared to other ungulates. The molars are lophodont, and the dental formula is 3/3, 1/1, 4/3, 3/3 = 42. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994; Witmer, et al., 1999; Zoological Society of London, 1867)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    150 to 250 kg
    330.40 to 550.66 lb
  • Range length
    204 to 220 cm
    80.31 to 86.61 in


The mating system of Tapirus terrestris has not yet been determined. When females are sexually receptive, males compete for the right to mate by biting one another on the feet, suggesting polygyny. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)

Gestation in Brazilian tapirs typically lasts for 380 days, but ranges from 335 to 439 days. Estrous occurs every 50 to 80 days and lasts for 48 hours. Most females become sexually mature between 2 and 3 years of age. The oldest female recorded to have given birth in captivity was 28 years old. Brazilian tapirs breed year round. They have 1 offspring at a time, which weighs from 3.2 to 5.8 kg at birth. Weaning is complete by 6 to 8 months of age, and most offspring are independent by 18 months of age. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)

  • Breeding season
    Mating in Brazilian tapirs occurs year-round.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    335 to 439 days
  • Average gestation period
    383 days
  • Range weaning age
    6 to 10 months
  • Average weaning age
    6-8 months
  • Range time to independence
    10 to 18 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    23 to 36 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    1095 days

Female Brazilian tapirs nurse young for 6 to 10 months and continue to live with young for an additional 1 to 8 months. Males provide no parental care to offspring. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female


There is little information available concerning the lifespan of Tapirus terrestris. Typically, it lives for 35 years in captivity, and there is no information regarding the lifespan of wild individuals. (Padilla and Dowler, 1994)


Brazilian tapirs are typically solitary, and although they are not exclusively nocturnal, they tend to keep to the shelter of the forest during the day and come out to feed at night. They are often seen in pairs during mating season and when females travel with offspring. Brazilian tapirs have limited eyesight, but strong olfactory perception. Although they are usually shy, they are aggressive while competing for mates or defending territories. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

Home Range

There is no information available regarding the home ranges of Brazilian tapirs.

Communication and Perception

Brazilian tapirs produce several vocalizations. A shrieking sound is used to express fear, distress, or pain. Clicking noises may be used to identify themselves to conspecifics, particularly during mating season. They show aggression with a nasal snort, and when irritated, it makes a puffing noise. Brazilian tapirs also use methods of chemical communication, as they urinate and use facial glands to demarcate territorial boundaries. (Hunsaker and Hahn, 1965; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)

Food Habits

Brazilian tapirs browse at night, eating fruit, leaves, and other plant material. Preferred forage plants include mombins, which produces fruit similar to large plums; huito, which produces large berry-like fruit; and moriche palm, which produces palm fruit. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Other than humans, the tapir’s main predator is the jaguar. They are sometimes taken by crocodylians. When alarmed by predators, tapirs flee to water or the nearest brush. If cornered, however, a tapir runs directly at its predator. Its semi-nocturnal tendencies may help decrease risk of predation. (Padilla and Dowler, 1994)

Ecosystem Roles

Brazilian tapirs are browsers and grazers. They are exceptionally common in certain area of their geographic range and make up a significant portion of the total biomass in these communities. They are frugivorous and are potential seed dispersers of many important fruit trees throughout their geographic range. Their digestion generally leaves ingested seeds undamaged, as is the case with fruit from assai palms and epena. Brazilian tapirs are host to a number of parasites including several species of ticks (Haemophysalis juxtakochi and Amblyomma ovale), numerous species of ciliated protozoa (Buisonella tapiri, Blepharocorys cardionucleata, Balantidium coli, and Prototapirella intestinalis), and roundworms (Neomurshidia monostichia and Physocephalas nitidulans). Burrowing mites sometimes cause sarcoptic mange. (Eisenberg and Hubbard Redford, 1999; Padilla and Dowler, 1994)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • hard ticks, (Haemophysalis juxtakochi)
  • hard ticks, (Amblyomma ovale)
  • ciliated protozoa, (Buisonella tapiri)
  • ciliated protozoa, (Blepharocorys cardionucleata)
  • ciliated protozoa, (Balantidium coli)
  • ciliated protozoa, (Prototapirella intestinalis)
  • roundworms, (Neomurshidia monostichia)
  • roundworms, (Physocephalas nitidulans)
  • burrowing mites, (Sarcoptes scabiei)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Brazilian tapirs are hunted for hide and meat, providing a significant amount of protein to the diets of various rural populations. They have been domesticated in Brazil and taught to pull plows and allow children to ride them. They are also kept in numerous zoos across the globe. (Padilla and Dowler, 1994)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Tapirus terrestris on humans.

Conservation Status

Tapirus terrestris is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. Although more studies are needed to determine current population densities and trends, it is widely thought that T. terrestris is declining throughout its geographic range. Major threats include over hunting, competition with livestock, and habitat loss through deforestation. It occurs in numerous protected areas throughout its range, and although it is legally protected from hunting, these laws are rarely enforced and have proven ineffective. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists T. terrestris under Appendix II, and the species is listed as Endangered by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. (Naveda, et al., 2010.4)


Samantha Luxenberg (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Eisenberg, J., K. Hubbard Redford. 1999. Mammals of The Neotropics: The Central Neotropics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ferrero, B., J. Noriega. 2007. "A new tapir from the upper Pleistocene of Argentina: phylogenetic remarks on the neotropical family diversification and paleoenvironmental inferences" (On-line). Accessed March 10, 2011 at http://www.bioone.org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/doi/abs/10.1671/0272-4634%282007%2927%5B504%3AANUPTF%5D2.0.CO%3B2.

Fragoso, J., J. Huffman. 2000. "Seed-dispersal and seedling recruitment patterns by the last Neotropical megafaunal element in Amazonia, the tapir" (On-line). Accessed March 10, 2011 at http://journals.cambridge.org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=60866&jid=TRO&volumeId=16&issueId=03&aid=60865&bodyId=&membershipNumber=&societyETOCSession=.

Holanda, E., M. Cozzuol. 2006. "New record of Tapirus from the late Pleistocene of southwestern Amazonia, Brazil" (On-line pdf). Accessed March 10, 2011 at http://www.sbpbrasil.org/revista/edicoes/9_2/RBP9-2-cozzuol.pdf.

Hunsaker, D., T. Hahn. 1965. Vocalization of South American Tapir Tapirus Terrestris. Animal Behavior, 13/1: 69.

Husson, A. 1978. The Mammals of Suriname. Netherlands: Brill.

Naveda, A., D. Torres, B. de Thoisy, C. Richard-Hansen, L. Salas, R. Wallance, S. Chalukian, S. de Bustos. 2010.4. "Tapirus terrestris" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed May 25, 2011 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/21474/0.

Norton, J., M. Ashley. 2004. Genetic variability and population structure among wild Baird's Tapirs. Animal Conservation, 7: 211-220.

Nowak, R. 1999. Mammals of the Wold, Volume 1. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Padilla, M., R. Dowler. 1994. Tapirus terrestris. Mammalian Species, 481: 1-8. Accessed March 31, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/350410.

Salas, L., T. Fuller. 1996. "Diet of the lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) in the Tabaro River valley, southern Venezuela" (On-line). Accessed March 10, 2011 at http://article.pubs.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca.proxy.lib.umich.edu/RPAS/rpv?hm=HInit&journal=cjz&volume=74&calyLang=eng&afpf=z96-159.pdf.

Thoisy, B., A. Goncalves da Silva, M. Ruiz-Garcia, A. Tapia, O. Ramirez, M. Arana, V. Quse, C. Paz-y-Mino, M. Tobler, C. Pedraza, A. Lavergne. 2010. "Population history, phylogeography, and conservation genetics of the last Neotropical mega-herbivore, the lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris)" (On-line). Accessed March 10, 2011 at http://www.biomedcentral.com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/1471-2148/10/278.

Trolle, M., A. Noss, J. Cordeiro. 2008. "Brazilian tapir density in the Pantanal: A comparison of systematic camera-trapping and line-transect surveys" (On-line). Accessed March 10, 2011 at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/doi/10.1111/j.1744-7429.2007.00350.x/pdf.

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 2005. Mammal Species of The World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Witmer, L., S. Sampson, N. Solounias. 1999. The Proboscis of Tapirs: a Case Study in Novel Narial Anatomy. Journal of Zoology, 249: 250-266.

Zoological Society of London, 1867. Proceedings. London: Zoological Society of London.