6 Things You Didn't Know About Tapirs (NSFW)

Baby tapir. Shutterstock
Danielle Andrew 28 Apr 2015, 15:18

Tapirs are pretty fascinating creatures.

So what actually are they? Large, forest-dwelling mammals, Tapirs are herbivores and are often described as hybrid cross of a wild boar and an anteater. 

Very little was known about these curious creatures until 1996 when Brazilian conservation biologist Patricia Medici devoted her research to finding out more about them. Medici discovered that the herbivores are central to the health of forest ecosystems - and that they're under threat.

 Things You Didn't Know About Tapirs 

1. There are 4 species of tapir, the most recent only discovered in 2006 - and all of them are considered endangered or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Lowland, Baird, and Malyan tapir are all found in tropical environments across South and Central America, and Southeastern Asia. The mountain tapir, characterized by its wooly coat, and are the only kind that do not inhabit tropical rainforests, instead setting up camp in the mountains of the Andes. 

Areas the tapir inhabit. Via Tapir Specialist Group

2.The tapirs’ odd looking nose is prehensile, flexible and can be used as a snorkel - it’s very good for snuffling around and grabbing leaves, fruit and other vegetation.

 

The tapirs extended nose and upper lip form the flexible trunk. Anna Schultz

3. The tapirs’ closest living relatives are horses and rhinos. They can grow up to 300 kilos – half the size of their horse relatives.

4. Tapirs are considered “gardeners of the forest”. They are wide-ranging animals, travelling across vast distances and various habits as they wander from forest patch to forest patch. They will eat in one place, walk a distance, and defecate seeds along the way, dispersing them and creating a planet genetic free flow between habitats. Tapirs are also considered an “umbrella species” – they require large areas to find all the resources they need, and so they end up protecting other species that live within that habitat too, such as peccaries, deer, birds, insects. When you combine these two facts, it becomes abundantly clear just how much of a critical role tapirs play in the shaping and maintaining the biological diversity of its habitats. Tapirs are one of the first species to be affected by human disturbance, and a decrease in population can trigger an adverse ripple effect across a forest that will eventually lead to compromising the long term integrity and biodiversity within the eco-system. So for an animal you may never have heard of, tapirs are extremely important creatures!

5. Tapirs are pregnant for more than a year, roughly 13 – 14 months, and only produce one offspring at a time. As they reproduce so slowly, if the populations’ number ever declines - due to hunting, disease or deforestation - it is unlikely they will ever recover. Although generally gentle, docile animals, mother tapirs will attack when threatened; which is totally understandable when you see just how cute their babies are.

Baby tapirs’ are born with stripes and spots, which fade as they get older. Photo: LIana John

6.The last and most important tapir fact you wonder? Well it can only be that it has a mammouth “prehensile”, or gripping, penis. Well, what does this giant penis look that look like, I hear you ask.

Youtube screenshot

The tapirs impressive and oddly shaped member is used to grip hold of the female to ensure successful insemination.

And there you have it: not only are these quirky little creatures extremely important to the envinronment and help protect numerous species, they're a contender for the largest penis in comparison to body size in the animal kingdom too!

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