Today (April 27) is World Tapir Day, a day to celebrate these wonderous animals and learn a little about why we should be protecting them.
What is a tapir?
Tapir’s are large, herbivorous mammals that live in rainforests, grasslands, swamps and cloud forests. There are four modern species of tapir. The mountain tapir, Brazilian tapir and Baird’s tapir of South America, and the Malayan tapir of South East Asia.
Tapir’s are herbivorous, which means that they feed exclusively on plants. There are plenty of plants in their forest homes. They have a particular fondness for seeds and can help to distribute them across the forest floor, as the seeds often survive digestion and are deposited on the ground in their poo. Conservation scientists have found that the tapir’s seed-eating habits can help to rebuild forests, especially as the seeds are often deposited alongside nutrient-high dung, helping them to grow.
As with a lot of animals, they are excellently adapted to their surroundings and have a unique adaptation which helps them to move around the muddy forest floor. Researcher Oscar Wilson tells us about their toes:
“All tapirs are most comfortable in muddy forests and this has led to the evolution of their weird looking feet. Tapirs are completely unique among mammals in having four toes on their front feet and three toes on their back feet. Look out for this the next time you’re in a natural history museum! This strange system means that they walk in complete confidence and almost complete silence on forest paths that induce panic in researchers trying to follow them.“
Young tapirs have patterns and stripes in their fur. This helps them to camouflage (hide) from predators while they are little. The stripes fade as they grow older and their adult colours develop.
How are the tapirs doing today?
Sadly, all four tapir species are at risk of extinction. This is mostly due to habitat loss as tapir’s are shy animals that need plenty of space to roam.
Create ‘Pin the Nose on the Tapir’ game
You will need:
- Thick paper or card
- Pencils, crayons or colouring materials
- Sticky-tac or pins
- Optional: cork board
- To play: a blindfold or scarf
Simply click on the image to download and print a tapir stencil:
- Print out or create your own tapir face, nose and ears shapes.
- Carefully cut out the shapes using scissors.
- Decide which tapir species you’d like to create (using the images at the top of this page) and colour the tapir’s face, nose and ears in.
We’ve decided on a striped young tapir for our example.
- Glue on the tapir’s ears.
- Pin the tapir head to a cork board or use sticky-tac to stick it to a wall.
How to play:
- Cover your eyes using a blindfold or scarf.
- Using a pin or sticky-tac, try to place your tapir nose in the correct place.
- Have family or friends take it in turns and see if you get any correct (or funny) results!
Discover more about World Tapir Day and the different tapir species visit: Tapir Day
Find out about the tapir’s in the Museum of Zoology collection from student Oscar Wilson here: Animal Bytes: Malayan Tapir, Tapirus Indicus