Brazilian Tapir Fact File


Brazilian tapirs have a stocky body covered with a thick skin which is colored brown to dark red. The skin on the cheeks, throat and chest are a lighter shade of brown.

Their body is streamlined to help them when moving through the forest. On top of the head is a rise known as the saggital crest. On top of this is a short mane of fur which helps to defend against predators such as the jaguar. Their eyes sit back in the socket to protect against thorns and branches while moving through the forest. On either side of the head is a large, erect ear which gives them good hearing. These ears have a white edge.

One of the most noticeable features of a tapir is the snout which resembles a small elephant’s trunk. This is used to reach their food and can also be used as a snorkel when swimming.

Each foot ends with three toes. These spread their weight across the soft ground that they walk across.

At the end of the body is a stubby tail which measures 46-100cm (18-39in).

A Brazilian tapir will measure between 1.8 and 2.5m (5.9-8.2ft) long. Their weight varies between 225 and 250kg (500-550lbs). At the shoulder they stand between 77 and 108cm (30.3-42.5in).


The Brazilian tapir is a herbivore. Their diet includes leaves, tree bark, aquatic vegetables, reeds and fruit. They are important in the ecosystem as they help to distribute the seeds of the plants they eat.

Food is gathered using their flexible snout.

Brazilian tapirs will visit salt licks to gather minerals to supplement their diet.

They eat up to 34kg (75lbs) of food each day.


Scientific Name

Tapirus terrestris

Conservation Status





1.8-2.5m (5.9-8.2ft)




Captive 35 years



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South America is the native home of the Brazilian tapir. Here they can be found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

They are considered extinct in small parts of their range.


The Brazilian tapir is also known as the lowland tapir and can be found in lowland areas. They make their home in moist swamp forests, shrublands, wetlands and grasslands.



Males will compete for breeding rights with the females by biting one another on their toes.

Following a 380 day gestation period a single calf is born though twins are possible on rare occasions. At birth the young weigh between 3.2 and 5.8kg (7-12.8lbs). Within two hours of their birth the calf is standing.

The skin of calves is patterned with white spots and stripes which are described by many as resembling a watermelon.

It is believed this pattern helps them to camouflage among vegetation. This color is lost by one year old.

Young are weaned after 6-8 months old and become independent by 18 months old. Males are not involved in the care of the infant.

Sexual maturity is reached between two and three years old. Females in captivity have breed as old as 28 years of age.


When disturbed they produce a vocalization which is a loud, piercing whistle. A clicking noise is used to communicate with other Brazilian tapirs. There is an increase in these during mating season. They will scent mark to show their territory.

They spend much of their time in the water. This provides some level of protection against predators. Wallowing in the water also helps to remove parasites. Their flexible snout is used as a snorkel under water to help them breathe.

Adult Brazilian tapirs are solitary and only come together to mate.

Brazilian tapirs come out at night to feed.


Predators and Threats

The main natural predator of the Brazilian tapir is the jaguar. They may also be eaten by crocodilians, pumas and anacondas.

Humans impact their population through deforestation, hunting and competition for food with domestic livestock. A major threat is the destruction and fragmentation of habitat.

Quick facts

A group of tapirs is known as a candle.

Tapirs are believed to have lived on Earth unchanged for 20 million years.

The closest relatives of the tapir are the horse and rhinoceros.

Their name ‘tapir’ comes from a Brazilian word which means ‘thick’ in reference to their thick skin.


Photo Credits

Copyright. The Animal Facts.


Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Adelaide Zoo. 2020. Meet Our Beautiful Brazilian Tapirs At Adelaide Zoo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 October 2020]. 2020. Tapirs | National Geographic. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 October 2020].

Luxenberg, S. 2014. "Tapirus terrestris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 03, 2020 at 2020. Brazilian Tapir. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 October 2020]. 2020. Brazilian Tapir - Fota Wildlife Park. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 October 2020].

World Tapir Day. 2020. Brazilian Tapir. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 October 2020].

Varela, D., Flesher, K., Cartes, J.L., de Bustos, S., Chalukian, S., Ayala, G. & Richard-Hansen, C. 2019. Tapirus terrestris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T21474A45174127. Downloaded on 04 October 2020. 2020. Tapir | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 October 2020].

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