Tapirs are large mammals that look like wild hogs with snouts of anteaters. However, they are most closely related to horses and rhinoceroses. In fact, the snout is really an extended nose and upper lip, which they use as the flexible trunk of an elephant to grab foliage and pluck tasty fruits. Tapirs have round bodies, short legs and stubby tails, sort of like a hippo. They have oval, white-tipped ears, rounded and protruding rumps, stubby tails, four splayed toes with hooves on the front feet and three on the hind feet, which help them to walk easily on muddy and soft ground.
There are four widely recognized extant species of tapirs, which include the Brazilian tapir, the Malayan Tapir, Baird’s tapir and the Mountain tapir. Most tapirs are about 6feet 6 inches (about 2 m) long, stand about 3feet (I m) high at the shoulder and weigh between 150 and 300 kg. With exceptions of the Malayan tapir, which has a white and saddle-shaped marking on its back and the mountain tapir, which has longer woolly fur, the colours of their coat range from reddish brown, to grey, to nearly black? However, baby tapirs of all types have striped-and-spotted coats.
Their brown eyes are often covered with a bluish cast, which has been considered as corneal cloudiness. Apart from that, they have a monocular vision in which both eyes are used separately. However, their sensitive ears have a strong sense of smell that helps them to compensate for their deficiencies in vision. Usually their life span is about 25 to 30 years, both in the wild and in captivity.
With the notable exception of the mountain or woolly tapirs, which lives high in the Andes Mountains, the tapirs in general frequently live in dry land forests regions of Central America, South America and Southeast Asia. However, tapirs with access to rivers like to spend a good deal of time in and under water, feeding on soft vegetation and cooling off during hot periods.
They are known to be good swimmers, can even dive to feed on aquatic plants and when threatened, tapirs tend to submerge themselves in the water body and use their snouts like a snorkel. Apart from lounging in fresh water, they also like wallow in mud pits, which help to keep them cool and free of insects like pesky ticks from their thick hides.
With the exception of the mothers and their young offspring, tapirs lead almost exclusively solitary lives. Young tapirs become sexually mature between three and five years of age, with females maturing earlier than males. The female tapirs have a single pair of mammary glands and males have long penises relative to their body size. Copulation may occur in or out of water.
Mating pairs often copulate several times during oestrus and the copulation lasts between 10 and 20 minutes. Usually, a healthy female tapir can reproduce every two years; a single young, called a calf, is born after a gestation of about 13 months.