Baird’s Tapir, Tapirus bairdii

Baird’s Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) is native to Central America and northern areas of South America. It is among three species of tapir that is native to Latin America. Baird’s tapir was named after Spencer Fullerton Baird, an American naturalist who observed the creatures in 1843 on a trip to Mexico, even though W. T. White, another American naturalist, made the first documentation of the tapir.

Commonly known as danta by people throughout its range, this tapir has been given other names. In Belize, Baird’s tapir is the national animal, and it is called the mountain cow. Colombians and Panamanians call this tapir macho de monte, while in the regions surrounding Oaxaca and Veracruz, Baird’s tapir is called the anteburro. In Lacandon Baird’s tapir has been given the name cash-i-tzimin, which means “jungle horse”. In Mexico Baird’s tapir is known as the Tzeltal( name tzemen, and in Tojolab’al it is known as niguanchan, which means “big animal”. The Kunas( people in Panama will call Baird’s tapir one of six things. In their colloquial language of Tule kaya, this tapir is known as moli, while in their political language of Sakla kaya the tapir is called oloalikinyappi, oloalikinyalilele, or oloswikinyaliler. In the spiritual language of the Kunas people known as Suar mimmi kaya, Baird’s tapir is known as ekwilamakkatola or ekwirmakka.

Baird’s tapir is brown or grey in color, with the exception of the tan color on the throat and face, and the dark spot on the cheeks. Baird’s tapir is the biggest native land mammal in South and Central America, weighing between 330 and 880 pounds. It can reach a body length of up to 6.6 feet and height of 3.9 feet. As is typical to tapirs, Baird’s tapir has a long, bendable snout and a short tail. Each hind foot has three toes, while each fore foot has four toes.

Although Baird’s tapir is mainly nocturnal, it may be active at all hours of the day. It is not particularly social, but it can be seen feeding with younger or older tapirs, especially if the tapirs are parents and young. These tapirs will feed on leaves or fruit that has fallen to the forest floor, navigating well-worn tapir paths to forage. Baird’s tapir love to wade in water and to swim, and can be seen resting in watering holes on hot days. They communicate using squeaks and high-pitched whistles.

Baird’s tapirs have a pregnancy that lasts four hundred days, after which only one baby is born, although multiple births have rarely occurred. Babies are born with distinct white spots and stripes, a defense mechanism that allows them to blend in the patches of sunlight coming through the trees. The rest of their fur is colored reddish brown. Baby tapirs will stay with their mother until after one year of age. At three weeks old, baby tapirs are able to swim. Baird’s tapirs can live to be over thirty years old.

Since adult tapirs have been known to chase or gore through humans, it is not advised to approach them in the wild. In 2006, former Costa Rican Minister of Environment and Energy Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Echandi was attacked an injured by a tapir when he followed one of a trail. It is thought that tapir attack humans primarily in self-defense.

Predators of Baird’s tapir include two larger species, adult American crocodiles and adult jaguars. Often times, as seen from a study done in Corcovado National Park, Baird’s tapir will survive these attacks. Baird’s tapir was given the status of Vulnerable in 1996 by the IUCN(, due to habitat loss and hunting by humans. Although hunting occurs in limited numbers, each tapir that is lost causes damage to the species because their reproduction is slow.  In Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, and Belize, hunting of Baird’s tapir is illegal, though the laws there are rarely enforced. These restrictions do not address habitat loss, however, and conservationists try to emphasize environmental education and forestry preservation to save Baird’s tapir.

Image Caption: A Baird’s Tapir, native to Belize, considers cooling down in a pond on a semi-warm day in December. Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen/Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)