Taronga Zoo is encouraging visitors to get to know one of the Zoo’s lesser known animals, ‘Birani’ the Malayan Tapir, to help celebrate World Tapir Day.
Birani which is referred to as the ‘handsome one’ by his keepers is a striking black and white Malayan Tapir which resides along Taronga’s rainforest trail.
Senior Keeper, Justine Powell, said: “When people take time to spot him in the dappled rainforest exhibit there’s always lots of head scratching and exclamations from visitors wondering what he is.”
“Malayan Tapirs are a very different animal, and probably the most misidentified animal at the Zoo. Their closest relatives are rhinos and horses, but they have a trunk-like snout like an elephant, trotters like a pig, they have an amazing high pitched whistle and can stay submerged under water for several minutes.”
“I‘m probably biased, but Birani is one of the loveliest animals at Taronga. He’s rarely in a bad mood, and has such a gentle nature. He’s a complete sook and loves being scratched on his belly with a plastic rake,” said Justine.
Despite being one of the lesser known animals at the Zoo, tapirs have roamed the world for centuries. Prehistoric remains of the species have been found dating back to the super continent ‘Gondwana’.
Although Tapirs have survived for millions of years, their future is by no means secure. Tapirs are hunted extensively for food, sport and for its thick skins which provides quality leather. By far the greatest threat to the tapir is habitat destruction caused by logging and clearing of land for agriculture.
“Tapirs are plant eating animals so they’re some of the first animals to be affected by development and amongst the last to return to re-growth forests. If people knew what tapirs were, the important role they play as forest seed disperses and how magnificent these animals are, then maybe we can help them survive for many years to come,” said Justine.
Including the Malayan Tapir there are four types of tapir species, the Bairds Tapir, Mountain and Brazilian Tapirs. Taronga Zoo is also home to a female Brazilian Tapir ‘Tiquie’ which zoo keepers are able to brush and apply special oil to her skin to keep it from drying out.
The World Conservation Union Redlist of threatened species lists all four species of tapir as endangered or vulnerable and the Mountain Tapir is one of the most endangered large mammals in the world.
World Tapir Day is celebrated every year on April 27.