Malayan Tapir Fact File


The Malayan tapir has a very distinctive coat pattern with the front part of the body until just after the front legs being black along with the hind legs, while the back has a saddle of white or grey. While this pattern might not seem to be very good for camouflage it is highly effective at breaking up their outline making them almost invisible in the moonlight in the jungle or the shady enviroment in which they live, and also it can make them look like a large rock when they are lying down during the day.

They have a stocky body that is tapered at the front and rounded at the back, they have four toes on the front feet and three toes on the back feet. Their ears are large and black with a white rim, they have small beady eyes, a small stumpy tail and the nose and upper lip form a proboscis (an elongated appendage from the head of an animal).

Malayan tapirs are about 1.8 to 2.4 metres (6-8 ft) in length and they stand 90 to 107 cms (3-3.5 ft) tall, they weigh on average 250 to 320 kgs (550-700 pounds) with the females usually being larger than the males.


The Malayan tapir is a grazer and a browser. The tapir uses its nose like a finger to grab leaves from tree branches or to pick up fruit that has fallen on the forest floor. They feed mostly on grasses, leaves, buds, twigs, aquatic plants and fruits from low shrubs. They eat the leaves and shoots from a huge variety of plants, around 115 species although they really prefer about 30 of those.

The Malayan tapirs nose is very useful when the tapir wants to eat as they can use it to pluck leaves from the trees and they can also use it to explore a circle of ground 30 cms (1 ft) in diameter without even moving its head.

Malayan Tapir

Scientific Name

Tapirus indicus 

Conservation Status



90-107cm (3-3.6ft)





1.8-2.4m (6-8ft)


30 years



-- AD --


Malayan tapirs are the only Asian species of tapir, and they are native to the island of Sumatra, the Malay peninsula and Southern Thailand.


They are found in the rainforests where there is plenty of lush vegetation, and they range from the lowlands to the mountainous areas.

They are now considered endangered mainly due to human activities. Much of there habitat has been destroyed by activities such as cattle grazing, agriculture, deforestation and also flooding due to hydroelectric projects. They are also hunted for food in some areas and sport, and for their hides. They are sometimes also sold in illegal trade in places like Thailand where a young tapir might sell for as much as 5000 dollars.


Malayan tapirs breed between April and May and usually have one calf after a gestation period of 390-395 days.

The calf at birth weighs about 7 kg (15lbs) and a female can produce a calf every 18 months or so.

When the calf is born it does not have the same coat pattern as an adult but looks like a brown and beige striped watermelon on legs. This pattern is good for camouflage in the dappled sunlight of the forest especially when they lie down. The calf will lose these markings in about 6-8 months.

The female produces milk for the calf and weaning usually occurs between 6 – 8 months of age.

They reach adult size at 18 months old and are sexually mature at 2-4 years old.


Malayan tapirs are generally solitary animals and they mark out large tracts of land as their territory however these usually overlap with other tapirs territory. They mark out their territory by spraying urine on plants and they generally follow paths that they have made in the undergrowth.

Although they look like they would be a slow animal when they are threatened by a predator their streamlined shape lets them crash through undergrowth with great speed. They are also really good divers and swimmers and can hide from predators in deep waterways because they can remain underwater for several minutes. The hard thick skin on their necks provides protection from predators bites and they also have strong teeth and jaws which can inflict a serious bite to a predator.

Being a large animal they have few predators. Their two main threats are tigers and dholes.

The Malayan tapir communicates in several ways. They use high pitched squeaks and whistles. They snort and stamp their feet when they feel threatened and are getting ready to defend themselves. They spray urine on plants to communicate to other tapirs that the territory is taken.

Quick facts

Malayan tapirs are also known as Asian tapirs.

Malayan tapirs are good swimmers and they often like to bathe and swim.

They are mainly active at night but they are not exclusively nocturnal.

Malayan Tapir

Photo Credits

Copyright. The Animal Facts


Traeholt, C., Novarino, W., bin Saaban, S., Shwe, N.M., Lynam, A., Zainuddin, Z., Simpson, B. & bin Mohd, S. 2016. Tapirus indicus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T21472A45173636. Downloaded on 17 May 2020.

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