|Current distribution in blue, historic distribution in red, uncertain range in yellow|
The Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii), also known as the Central American tapir, is a species of tapir native to Mexico, Central America, and northwestern South America. It is the largest of the three species of tapir native to the Americas, as well as the largest native land mammal in both Central and South America.
The Baird's tapir is named for the American naturalist Spencer Fullerton Baird, who traveled to Mexico in 1843 and observed the animals. However, the species was first documented by another American naturalist, W. T. White.
Like the other American tapirs (the mountain tapir and the South American tapir), the Baird's tapir is commonly called danta by people in all areas. In the regions around Oaxaca and Veracruz, it is referred to as the anteburro. Panamanians, and Colombians call it macho de monte, and in Belize, where the Baird's tapir is the national animal, it is known as the mountain cow.
In Mexico, it is called tzemen in Tzeltal; in Lacandon, it is called cash-i-tzimin, meaning "jungle horse" and in Tojolab'al it is called niguanchan, meaning "big animal". In Panama, the Kunas people call the Baird's tapir moli in their colloquial language (Tule kaya), oloalikinyalilele, oloswikinyaliler, or oloalikinyappi in their political language (Sakla kaya), and ekwirmakka or ekwilamakkatola in their spiritual language (Suar mimmi kaya).
The Baird's tapir has a distinctive cream-colored marking on its face, throat, and tips of its ears, with a dark spot on each cheek, behind and below the eye. The rest of its hair is dark brown or grayish brown. Baird's tapirs average 2 m (6.6 ft) in length, but can range between 1.8 and 2.5 m (5.9 and 8.2 ft), not counting a stubby, vestigal tail of 5–13 cm (2.0–5.1 in), and 73–120 cm (2.40–3.94 ft) in height. Body mass in adults can range from 150 to 400 kilograms (330 to 880 lb). Like the other species of tapirs, they have small, stubby tails and long, flexible proboscises. They have four toes on each front foot, and three toes on each back foot.
The gestation period is about 400 days, after which one offspring is born. Multiple births are extremely rare, but in September 2020, a Baird's tapir in Boston's Franklin Park Zoo birthed twins. The babies, as with all species of tapir, have reddish-brown hair with white spots and stripes, a camouflage which affords them excellent protection in the dappled light of the forest. This pattern eventually fades into the adult coloration.
For the first week of their lives, infant Baird's tapirs are hidden in secluded locations while their mothers forage for food, and return periodically to nurse them. Later, the young follow their mothers on feeding expeditions. At three weeks of age, the young are able to swim. Weaning occurs after one year, and sexual maturity is usually reached six to 12 months later. Baird's tapirs can live for over 30 years.
The Baird's tapir may be active at all hours, but is primarily nocturnal. It forages for leaves and fallen fruit, using well-worn tapir paths which zig-zag through the thick undergrowth of the forest. The animal usually stays close to water and enjoys swimming and wading – on especially hot days, individuals will rest in a watering hole for hours with only their heads above water.
It generally leads a solitary life, though feeding groups are not uncommon, and individuals, especially those of different ages (young with their mothers, juveniles with adults) are often observed together. The animals communicate with one another through shrill whistles and squeaks.
The Baird's tapir has a symbiotic relationship with cleaner birds that remove ticks from its fur: the yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima) and the black vulture (Coragyps atratus) have both been observed removing and eating ticks from tapirs. Baird's tapirs often lie down for cleaning, and also present tick-infested areas to the cleaner birds by lifting limbs, and rolling from one side to the other.
Potential danger to humans
Attacks on humans are rare and normally in self-defense. In 2006, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Echandi, the former Costa Rican Minister of Environment and Energy, was attacked and injured by a Baird's tapir after he followed it off the trail.
Due to their size, adults can be potentially dangerous to humans, and should not be approached if spotted in the wild. The animal is most likely to follow or chase a human for a bit, though they have been known to charge and gore humans on rare occasions.
According to the IUCN, the Baird's tapir is endangered. There are two main contributing factors in the decline of the species; poaching and habitat loss. Though in many areas, the animal is only hunted by a few humans, any loss of life is a serious blow to the tapir population, especially because their reproductive rate is so slow. Additionally, a study showed a small population of Baird's tapirs in North American and Central American zoos had inbreeding and divergence from the wild population.
In Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama, hunting of the Baird's tapirs is illegal, but the laws protecting them are often unenforced. Furthermore, restrictions against hunting do not address the problem of deforestation. Therefore, many conservationists focus on environmental education and sustainable forestry to try to save the Baird's tapir and other rainforest species from extinction.
Due to its size, an adult Baird's tapir has very few natural predators. Only large adult American crocodiles (4 metres or 13 feet or more) and adult jaguars are capable of preying on Baird's tapirs, although even in these cases, the outcomes are unpredictable and often in the Baird's tapir's favor (as is evident on multiple Baird's tapirs documented in Corcovado National Park with large claw marks covering their hides). However, young may be preyed on by smaller crocodiles and pumas.
- Garcìa, M.; Jordan, C.; O'Farril, G.; Poot, C.; Meyer, N.; Estrada, N.; Leonardo, R.; Naranjo, E.; Simons, Á.; Herrera, A.; Urgilés, C.; Schank, C.; Boshoff, L. & Ruiz-Galeano, M. (2016). "Tapirus bairdii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T21471A45173340. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
- Bridges, Robert (1865). "October 10th". Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. 17 (4): 183.
Prof. Gill offered a communication on a new generic type of the family Tapiridæ …
- Grubb, P. (2005). "Order Perissodactyla". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 633. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- "Tapirs, Belize Animals, Caribbean Critters". Ambergriscaye.com.
- Rivinus, E.F. & Youssef, E.M. (1992). Spencer Baird of the Smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution Press. p. x, 228. ISBN 1-56098-155-5.
- Huffman, Brent. Tapirus bairdii. Ultimate Ungulate
- Wells, Jeffrey (2008-11-13). "ADW: Tapirus bairdii: INFORMATION". Animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
- "Baird's tapir videos, photos and facts – Tapirus bairdii". ARKive. Archived from the original on 2008-11-08. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
- Burnie D and Wilson DE (Eds.), Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. DK Adult (2005), ISBN 0789477645
- "Zoo Babies: Franklin Park Zoo Welcomes Incredibly Rare Twins Dubbed 'Tapir Tots'". CBS Boston. 1 October 2020. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
- Coulson JO, Rondeau E, Caravaca M (March 2018). "Yellow-headed Caracara and Black Vulture Cleaning Baird's Tapir". Journal of Raptor Research. 52 (1): 104–107. doi:10.3356/JRR-16-90.1. S2CID 91157180. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
- Tapir Specialist Group, A High-level Tapir Run-in Archived 2009-04-25 at the Wayback Machine
- Norton, J. E. and M. V. Ashley. 2004. Genetic variability and population differentiation in captive Baird's tapirs, Tapirus bairdii. Zoo Biology 23:521-531.
- ARKive – images and movies of the Baird’s Tapir (Tapirus bairdii)
- Tapir Specialist Group – Baird’s Tapir