Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Lowland Tapir


©Marianela Velilla.

Class: Mammalia

Order: Perissodactyla


Scientific Name: Tapirus terrestris

IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

Protected by the following WLT projects:


Species Range (IUCN)


Belonging to the same family as rhinoceros, tapir are odd toed ungulates1, with four toes at the front and three at the back. These large mammals live in the forests of South America. What sets them apart is their long nose. Tapirs have a fleshy, prehensile trunk1, which can be used to grab leaves or act as a snorkel if they are swimming.

Lowland Tapir (also known as Brazilian or South American Tapir2) have a muscular crest on top of their head3 on which is a mane that stretches between their forehead and shoulders1. This species is coloured dark brown without any obvious markings, although they have paler cheeks, ear tips and throats. All baby tapirs are dark brown with pale stripes and spots that provide good camouflage on the forest floor1,3,4.


All tapir instinctively attempt to escape predation by moving into water1 and Lowland Tapir are able to stay submerged in deep water long enough to make any predator clinging to its back, let go1. Lowland Tapir are strong swimmers4,5 and may walk along the bottom of river beds1 to find food.  

Tapirs excrete in water when possible and there are two theories for why this might be, excreting in water reduces the animals scent trail on the land, therefore reducing the likelihood of predation, or excreting in water may reduce the attractiveness of the rear-end to biting flies1.

These shy and mostly docile creatures are semi-nocturnal4,5, meaning they are active at night in the wild. Tapirs make shrill whistles and clicks, shrieking to express pain and snorting to express irritation5.


The Lowland Tapir range over much of South America5. They are rarer in some areas than others, and have even become regionally extinct in places due to persecution2. They prefer lowland rainforests3 ranging from moist swamp forests to grasslands and wetlands2,1, as well as seasonally dry habitats such as the Chaco of Bolivia and Paraguay4

Threats and Conservation

The main threats to Lowland Tapir are habitat loss due to deforestation, being hunted for their meat or hides and competition with domestic livestock1,4,5. Although protected throughout its range and often occurring in protected areas, lack of enforcement can make the laws ineffective2,5.

Enforcing hunting restrictions in protected areas and restoring and conserving habitat would help prevent the further decline of the Lowland Tapir. However, this species is decreasing in numbers, more rapidly in some areas than others, despite its wide range. If numbers decrease any further, the species may merit an Endangered classification from IUCN.


1 Macdonald, D et al (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

2 IUCN Red List (accessed 6 March 2015)

3 ARKive (accessed 6 March 2015)

4 Tapir Specialist Group  (accessed 6 March 2015)

5 Animal Diversity Web (accessed 6 March 2015)

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