Tapir – the pig-like creature
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Tapir – the pig-like creature

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Description
    This mysterious animal confuses most people because, at first glance, it’s difficult to figure out what it really is due to its unusual features. However, these physical attributes are actually some adaptations that have helped these species to survive on Earth since the early Oligocene. 

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Tapir has a bizarre appearance, resembling an over-grown pig with a miniature trunk of an elephant, when in fact it’s only connected to horses, zebras and rhinos as its closest relatives. Nevertheless, this isn’t the only reason a tapir is considered being weird. Tapir has an odd number of toes, four toes on each front hoof, which is an even number, but it has merely three toes on each back hoof!
Tapir is a primitive animal that, according to scientists, has change very little throughout more than 10s millions of years. It belongs to the family Trapiridae and is part of a genus called Tapirius, which has 5 known species. These species consist in the Malayan tapir, the Brazilian tapir, Baird’s tapir, the Mountain tapir and the last one is the Kabomani tapir, which hasn’t been evaluated yet.
The size of tapirs is between 1.8 and 2.5 meters, as in 6 and 8.25 feet, in length, but it varies from one species to another. For instance, Malayan Tapir is the biggest tapir, while the Mountain Tapir is the smallest one. Moreover, tapirs weight from 180 to 320 kilograms, meaning from 396 to 704 pounds, and they have a height of about 1 meter, as in 3 feet, at shoulder.
They have short coats that vary in color, which can be reddish brown as well as black and white. Amongst all subspecies, only the Malayan Tapir has a white saddle-like pattern on its back, which can aid it to camouflage and become invisible in the forest’s vegetation with dim light. The Mountain Tapir also has a woollier pelt.
    Tapirs are characterized by a long and solid body with short legs, a rump that’s sticking out and a tiny, blunt tail. Tapirs have hooves spread open into four digits on the front and just three, though, on the back, and they aid them to walk on swampy land. Furthermore, tapirs bear rounded ears, titled in white and very sensitive, and their eyes are brown colored and small, and many times have a bluish casting to them recognized as cloudy cornea which damages their sight.
Even so, they have a very developed sense of smell, which aids to equilibrate things up, despite the previously mentioned deficit. Tapirs possess a prolonged, prehensile snout that they use mainly to catch tree branches and various leaves, which sometimes are hard to get at. Female tapirs have got a set of two single mammary glands that are used for nursing the young tapirs.
Tapirs are nocturnal animals as well as crepuscular, without including in also the Mountain Tapir because this one’s diurnal and active during daytime. Tapirs pass most time of the day in the water, utilizing their trunks similar to snorkels to cool off in their hot natural environment as well as to stay away from predators. Furthermore, tapirs are amazingly agile swimmers, despite their dimension, and have the ability to sink to the river bottom and walk along it exactly how rhinos do.
When they’re underwater, they give permission to little fish to collect parasites from their bodies. At day, tapirs have the custom to welter in mud, a method that also aids them to maintain cool and gets rid of insects from their skin too.

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In addition, tapirs are agile when it comes to climbing as well. They climb up abrupt slopes and river banks with seemingly ease. At nighttime, tapirs appear into more expose area where they look after vegetation and will travel along specific well-trodden trails towards a preferred watering hole. From their behavior, tapirs are mainly solitary, choosing to be alone a great amount of their time, a fact that doesn’t apply however to females and baby tapirs.
Due to their lifestyles characterized by solitude, tapirs can turn out to be quite aggressive amongst one another in case they meet. Therefore, to prevent these risky encounters, tapirs mark their portions of land with urine and warn one another of their presence by letting loose loud vocalizations along with high-pitched squeaks, shrieks and whistles.
    As for predators, tapirs have very few due to their big size and their neck’s thick skin, which makes it harder for a predator to catch the animal. Tapirs are more targeted by large cats, especially jaguars and tigers, but they aren’t safe when submerged also due to the presence of snakes like anaconda, and crocodiles.
Tapirs have also the ability to run rather fast in spite of their dimension and can find safe spots really fast in the dense vegetation of the forests or in water. In case they’re attacked by a predator, tapirs can protect themselves with their powerful jaws and sharp teeth.



Habitat
    Of the four major species of tapirs, three inhabit the New World tropics, while the other lives in the southeastern part of Asia. Only the Brazilian tapir, as in Tapirus terrestris, is located in the Amazon. Its distribution widens all over lowland Amazonia, in the west part of the Andean foothills at maximum 5500 feet, meaning 1700 m, and also in the eastern Atlantic forests. Its southern distribution stops with the high vast grassy plains of northern Argentina and Paraguay.
Tapirs choose to live in riverside habitats, muddy grounds or reclusive valleys with plenty vegetation, but they wander into the forest, having the ability to climb abrupt hillsides. Nevertheless, they’re located in open savanna where there’s sufficient cover for shielding from predators. Tapirs are usually active during nighttime, moving and eating then, while at day they prefer to rest in the dense cover.



Diet
    Tapirs are both browsers and grazers, consuming a large range of leaves, undergrowth, forest-edge herbs, bushes, young trees and fruits. Moreover, the lowland tapir, as in Tapirus terrestris, eats great quantities of grasses and aquatic plants in Amazonian flood-plain forests and in the Brazilian Pantalan, and they eat also bamboo leaves along with sprigs in the Atlantic forests found in eastern Brazil.
On the other hand, mountain tapirs, originally known as Tapirus pinchaque, feed on significant quantities of grasses, bamboo, sedges and bromeliads in their habitats at high altitude.
Even though there’s no evidence of tapirs searching and taking animal food, there were recovered arthropod remains, more precisely beetle wings, in the droppings of a mountain tapir, probably ingested by accident.
    The factors that influence tapirs’ choice of particular food plants are rather complicated and not easy to understand. It seems that individual foibles and plant protections have a role in this because tapirs prefer to feed more on young leaves and shoots. In captivity, tapirs are exposed to rectal prolapsus, referable to the ingestion of harsh and indigestible food, and maybe because of this, tapirs are picky eaters.
Mountain tapir’s diet consists in considerable amounts of nitrogen-fixing plants and silica-rich horsetails, thus tapirs pick food plants based on their nutrient and compound content.

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Like other nonruminant ungulates, tapirs are hindgut fermenters with a dilated blind gut. Even though wider hindgut fermenters are believed to grapple best with high-fiber, low-quality pasture, the picky search displayed by all tapirs, and the significant huge percentage of fruit in their diet revealed by some researches indicate that these animals do pick high-quality food when it’s accessible. It’s a sure thing that fruit patches are more browsed out and define foraging patterns of tapirs.
However, this comparative significance of fruits in the diets of tapirs can vary from one species to another and also among habitats.
    Unlike ruminant herbivores, which destroy almost or entirely the seeds they ingest, seeds of various species can pass through the tapir’s digestive system. These seeds have to last through tapir’s chewing and the pretty long transition time, which takes longer in the case of bigger seeds and may start germination in the gut of tapir, destroying the seed.
Tapirs have the ability to transport entire seeds by swallowing and eliminating them afterwards, and by feeding on fruits and spewing its seeds. The surviving seeds of their digestive tract help reseed many species of plants, and therefore tapirs are vital as key seed dispersers in their ecosystem.



Breeding
    Healthy female tapirs have the ability to give birth once at 2 years. Newborn tapirs like the Brazilian Tapir possess frequently reddish-brown coats with white stripes and dots patterns, which help them camouflage in the mottled forest shade.
As they grow up, tapir’s hair will become black, normally after 4 or 7 months. The baby tapirs are breastfeed from 6 to 8 months at which time they actually are almost entirely grown. Male tapirs attain sexual maturity when they are 3 or 4 years old, while females reach maturity ahead of them.
    Usually, tapirs mate during the whole year, but particularly when rainy seasons come. Newborn tapirs appear in the world just before the rains start in the next year. Mating can occur either in water or out of the water. Breeding couples will mate many times while the female is found in estrous. The gestation period lasts about 13 months and after it ends, the female tapir only gives birth to one baby tapir.



Extinction
    Tapirs are running out of habitats due to the fast deforestation of important rain forests all around the world. Approximately one and a half acres of forest are wiped out, as we speak, and about 137 species of tapir go extinct each day because of deforestation issues, thus they are at high risk of extinction.
As we know, tapirs mainly inhabit old growth forests, which are getting harder to find as time passes by. Furthermore, tapirs rely a whole lot on sources of food from forests and because their natural environment is being reduced, they have to struggle more to find as plenty food as they need along with shelters for sustenance. Since tapirs are nocturnal animals, they are asleep most of the time their environments are being extirpated.
Another reason for their extinctions is the pollution of several waterways, which can be harmful to tapirs. Since they have the custom to spend most of their time close to river for eating purposes and they also use them for protection against predators, the water pollution can harm tapirs.
The enhancing human intervention in the rainforests has caused a lot of water pollution. Because tapirs cannot live anymore in waterways, tapirs lose one of their most important resources. In addition, the deforestation has caused augmented soil erosion, air pollution, and extinction of several plant species. This natural habitat degradation has affected the safety of tapirs along with other species living in the rainforests.
Even though tapirs can stay away from predators and protect themselves rather well, they can’t avoid however human hunters and poachers. They are usually targeted for food and hides. Most tapirs are killed by humans due to poaching and sometimes food supplies. These activities have severely diminished the tapir population throughout the world and have marked the majority of tapir species as endangered.
    Today, the Brazilian tapir and the Malayan tapir are considered vulnerable, while the Baird’s tapir and the Mountain tapir are both regarded as endangered species, with the Mountain tapir representing the most threatened species. Even so, there are developed many conservation methods. Now, the Tapir Specialist Group are struggling to aid tapirs survive with different programs of preservation and restoration of their species.



Interesting facts
•  Male tapirs are known also as “bulls”, females go by the name of “cows” and a young tapir is called a “calf”. A group of tapirs goes by the name of “candle”.
•  Although tapirs are usually hunted for food and sport in some regions, a few Indian tribes don’t kill tapirs because of their religious grounds.
•  Tapirs sometimes destroy corn corps and several grains throughout Central America, though they aren’t normally regarded as pest species.
•  Tapirs can eat up to 40 kilograms, as in 85 pounds, of vegetation in a day.
•  In 1969, hybrids of the Baird’s tapirs and Brazilian ones were engendered at the San Francisco Zoo and in 1970 there was developed a second generation.
•  A tapir can live between 25 and 30 years both in the wild and in captivity.
•  Basically, tapirs are shy, but when they get frightened, they have the ability to protect themselves with their extremely strong jaws. In Oklahoma City, in 1998, a zookeeper was disfigured and had an arm cut off when he wanted to give food to a female tapir. Anyhow, this kind of behavior happens rarely because tapirs try to avoid confrontation by running from natural predators, hiding or going underwater if there’s a water source close to them.
•  In Chinese, Korean and Japanese, the tapir comes from a beast in the Chinese mythology that’s spelled as “Baku” in the Japanese mythology, and it’s a mystical creature with a snout similar to that of an elephant. In Chinese and Japanese folklore, tapirs, exactly like their chimerical equivalent, are believed to feed on people’s nightmares.
•  In old sequences of the science fiction movies called 2001: A Space Odyssey, tapirs are shown together with primitive hominids in Africa. However, there’s no proof suggesting that tapirs ever lived in Africa, thus it’s more likely that they were included in the film solely for their ancient appearance.


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Published by Claudia Barbu

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