Southeast Mexico through Northern Columbia to the Gulf of Guayaquil in Ecuador.
In vegetation at elevations from sea level to 3,600 meters (11,808 feet) and found in marsh and swamp areas, mangroves, wet tropical rainforests, riparian woodlands (forest with a natural waterway), monsoon deciduous forests, mountain cloud forests, and treeless alpine plateaus known as paramo. When primary and secondary forests are available, they prefer secondary due to the increase in understory plants for food and protection.
The snout and upper lip are projected forward to form a short fleshy proboscis like a small muscular trunk, used to help find and procure food and for tactile stimuli. This trunk is made up of muscles of the face and upper lip. The intricate arrangement of these muscles allow for a great deal of complex movement.
Diet in the Zoo: Strict herbivore diet (hay, browse and commercial diet). Bananas, among other fruits and vegetables are given as enrichment.
Diet in the Wild: Leaves form the bulk of their diet, but they also eat fruit, twigs, flowers, grasses and sedges (grasses with solid, rather than hollow, stems). They will move on to a new feeding area before eating all the available leaves.
Unknown in the wild; 30 years in captivity.
General: Tapirs are generally shy, solitary animals. They prefer to sleep in freshwater wallowing holes about seven inches deep during the dry season and within 20 meters (65 feet) of a water source during the wet season. They will use multiple wallows but return to use them repeatedly.
Senses: Though tapirs do not have very acute vision, they have an extremely well-developed sense of smell and can sample the air in all directions without turning their head. They also have keen hearing and the snout is equipped with tactile bristles enabling them to locate food with a minimum of movement.
Communication is most commonly a whistling sound followed by a response from another nearby tapir. They also make an agitation sound similar to repeated hiccups. Mothers will locate wondering young by making a loud snore-like sound.
Unique Behaviors: Tapirs are very good swimmers and can dive in the water and remain submerged for several minutes to escape predators. Tapirs will rarely defecate on dry land.
Endangered with a decreasing population trend on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This is due to the loss of 70% of Central America’s forest in the last 40 years, low birth rate, infectious diseases, and hunting pressure. Tapir’s have been extirpated in El Salvador.