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Bairds Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) is a species of tapir that is native to Central America and northern South America. It is one of three Latin American species of tapir.
Bairds Tapir is named for the American naturalist Spencer Fullerton Baird who traveled to Mexico in 1843 and observed the animals. However, the species was first documented by another American naturalist, W. T. White.
Like the other Latin American tapirs (the Mountain Tapir and the South American Tapir), Bairds Tapir is commonly called danta by people in all areas. In the regions around Oaxaca and Veracruz, it is referred to as the anteburro. Costa Ricans, Panamanians, and Colombians call it macho de monte, and in Belize, where Bairds Tapir is the national animal, it is known as the mountain cow.
In Mexico, it is called tzemen in Tzeltal; in Lacandon, it is called cash-i-tzimin, meaning jungle horse; and in Tojolab'al it is called niguanchan, meaning big animal. In Panama, the Kunas people call Bairds Tapir moli in their colloquial language (Tule kaya), oloalikinyalilele, oloswikinyaliler, or oloalikinyappi in their political language (Sakla kaya), and ekwirmakka or ekwilamakkatola in their spiritual language (Suar mimmi kaya).
General appearance and characteristics
Bairds Tapir has a distinctive cream-colored marking on its face and throat and a dark spot on each cheek, behind and below the eye. The rest of its hair is dark brown or grayish-brown. The animal is the largest of the three American species and, in fact, the largest land mammal found in the wild from Mexico to South America. Bairds Tapirs usually grow to in length and in height, and adults weigh . Like the other species of tapir, they have small stubby tails and long, flexible proboscises. They have four toes on each front foot and three toes on each back foot.
The gestation period is approximately 400 days, after which one offspring is born (multiple births are extremely rare). The babies, as with all species of tapir, have reddish-brown hair with white spots and stripes, a camouflage which affords them excellent protection in the dappled light of the forest. This pattern eventually fades into the adult coloration.
For the first week of their lives, infant Bairds Tapirs are hidden in secluded locations while their mothers forage for food and return periodically to nurse them, but after this time, the young follow their mothers on feeding expeditions. At three weeks of age, the young are able to swim. Weaning occurs after one year, and sexual maturity is usually reached six to twelve months later. Bairds Tapirs can live for over thirty years.
Bairds Tapir may be active at all hours, but is primarily nocturnal. It forages for leaves and fallen fruit, using well-worn tapir paths which zig-zag through the thick undergrowth of the forest. The animal usually stays close to water and enjoys swimming and wading on especially hot days, individuals will rest in a watering hole for hours with only their heads above water..
It generally leads a solitary life, though feeding groups are not uncommon and individuals, especially those of different ages are often observed together. The animals communicate with one another through shrill whistles and squeaks.
Adults can be potentially dangerous to humans if approached, so if you spot one in the wild approach with caution. Usually, at worst, the tapir may follow or even chase you for a bit- but people have been charged and gored on rare occasions in the past. To put it simply: leave them alone and they will do the same, but come around with flashing cameras and you may receive more than a photographic reminder.
Bairds Tapir is found in the dense jungles of Central America, including southeastern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador. The animal can be found at altitudes as high as .
Predation and vulnerability
According to the IUCN, Bairds Tapir is in danger of extinction, and in 1996 it was officially classified as Vulnerable. Hunting by humans and habitat loss are the two major factors in the species diminishing numbers. Even though in many areas the animal is only hunted by a few humans, any loss of life is a serious blow to the tapir population, especially because their reproductive rate is so slow.
Though in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama, hunting of Bairds Tapirs is illegal, the laws protecting them are often completely unenforced. Furthermore, restrictions against hunting do not address the problem of deforestation. Therefore, many conservationists focus on environmental education and sustainable forestry to try to save Bairds Tapir and other rainforest species from extinction.
Attacks on humans are rare and normally in self-defense. In 2006, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Echandi, the former Costa Rican Minister of Environment and Energy was attacked and injured by a tapir after he followed it off the trail.
An adult Bairds Tapir, being such a massive mammal, has very few natural predators. Only large adult American crocodiles ( or more) and adult Jaguars are capable of preying on tapirs, although even in these cases the outcome is unpredictable and, more often than not, in the tapir's favor (as is evident on multiple tapirs documented in Corcovado National Park with large claw marks covering their hide.)
Brent Huffman, Tapirus bairdii at Ultimate Ungulate, updated March 22, 2004.
A tapir is hunted by the characters of Apocalypto at the beginning of this 2006 movie.
ARKive - images and movies of the Bairds Tapir (Tapirus bairdii)
Tapir Specialist Group - Bairds Tapir
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Baird's Tapir