Florida Museum of Natural History

Tapirs

tapir Tapirs are among the most primitive of the larger animals in the world --they've changed little in 20 million years. Their compact streamlined bodies easily push through the undergrowth of their forest habitat. They also are agile climbers. All tapirs have a short flexible trunk (called a proboscis), which serves almost like a hand on their face and allows them to selectively pull leaves, shoots and fruits into their mouths.

Unlike the highly social horses, they are basically solitary animals, apart from temporary bonds between mothers and babies, as pictured here.

Today tapirs live only in Malaysia and parts of Central and South America. Until the end of the Ice Age (10,000 years ago) tapirs lived in Europe and North America. They first appeared in South America about 2 million years ago.

Like their rhino cousins, tapirs also are threatened by extinction as human populations spread into and exploit their forest habitats.

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