Like all tapirs, the Malayan Tapir is most closely related to the horse and the rhinoceros. It is the largest of the four tapir species and can be identified by its distinctive markings. Malayan Tapirs have distinctive black heads and legs, with a white saddle running between the shoulders and the rump. The tips of the tapir’s ears are also rimmed in white. Their colour pattern breaks up their outline in the shady forest. They look like a rock, fooling their predators.
The Malayan Tapir grows to approximately 1m in height and up to 2m long. Females are often larger than males. Their average weight is approximately 350kg. Thery can run fast in short bursts when moving through the forests or escaping predators.
All species of tapir have extremely unique feet, with four toes on the front feet and three on the hind feet. They also have large, protruding rumps, stubby tails, oval ears and long trunk-like noses, called proboscis. This structure is extremely flexible and can move in all directions. This prehensile appendage allows them to reach foliage that would otherwise be out of their reach.
Malayan Tapir have poor eyesight, which is more than made up for with their excellent sense of hearing and smell.
Malayan Tapirs are classified as Endangered. In addition to natural threats such as tigers and leopards, Malayan Tapir face a number of human-generated issues, primarily the destruction and fragmentation of habitat. Large areas of jungle have been cleared and converted into Palm Oil plantations. The majority of the tapirs’ habitat, unfortunately, lies outside any protected areas.
Malayan Tapir are also being hunted for their meat which is often sold in local markets or live animals are even traded. In the past many local tribes did not hunt tapir, due to beliefs about this bringing bad luck. However, now hunting is putting further pressure on this species.
Distribution & Habitat
The Malayan Tapir can be found from Southern Thailand, Peninular Malaysia and Southern Mynamar (Burma) to the island of Sumatra. Their distribution throughout this range is now fragmented. Malayan Tapir’s live in secondary tropical rainforests. They are also found within swamps and lowland areas close to water.
Gestation is approximately 13 months, or 400 days. Breeding generally occurs between April and June. Females, on average, will have one calf every two years. Young tapir look like ‘watermelons’ with a brown coat and white stripes.
The Malayan Tapir, like other tapirs, is fully grown by approximately eight months of age. They reach sexual maturity around three years. The lifespan of the Malayan Tapir is approximately 30years.
Following a herbivore’s diet, the tapir eats twigs, grasses, leaves and fruits. In fact they consume more than 100 different species of plants, with a preference for new green shoots.
Malayan Tapir are primarily solitary, except when mothers stay with their calf. They are also generally nocturnal. Whilst they are solitary by nature, a group of tapir is known as a colony and individual tapirs occupy territories which often overlap with those of its neighbours. Individual tapir can communicate to each other through a series of shrill whistles.
Territories often have regularly-used feeding routes, marked with urine. As the tapir moves around, it generally walks slowly with its head down. This may enable the tapir to pick up the scent of other tapirs in the vicinity. All tapir can enhance this scent detection by using the ‘flehmen response’. The tapir will adopt a posture, with their snout raised and showing their teeth. This increases the surface area over which they can detect scents. Males may use this to detect females in the area.
The tapir will often traverse large distances in search of food, stopping regularly to feed. Often foraging paths lead to bodies of water that the tapir will use to swim or wallow in. In addition to being good swimmers, Malayan Tapirs are good climbers and can trek up steep slopes, often during the rainy season.
Generally speaking, Malayan Tapir are quite shy animals and being solitary, have few encounters with each other. During encounters they can snort as an aggressive display. Other communications include shrill squeals in response to fear or pain and low frequency squeals are used to keep other tapirs in general communication with each other.