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Know Before You Go

Tapir Facts | Costa Rica Wildlife Guide

The tapir has become a prominent symbol of the Central and South American tropics. Tapirs have changed very little in appearance for millions of years. These stout herbivores are related to the horse and the rhinoceros. They are solitary creatures, with the exception of mothers and their young—which are born brown with white stripes and splotches that fade with age. Tapirs have a short, prehensile trunk, which they use to pluck fruit and leaves from branches, feeding in the morning and the evening. The lowland tapir is the largest land mammal in South America.

Tapirs, along with their natural predator jaguars, have suffered at the hands of humans. Once frequenting forests, grasslands, lowland swamps and bamboo thickets at nearly 10,000 feet in elevation in the Costa Rican Talamanca Mountains, hunters and habitat loss have now brought them to the brink of extinction.

Today, tapirs are endangered and reside mainly in national reserves and protect areas where hunting is banned. They have become wary of people, and seeing them in the wild is very rare. They rely on concealment to hide from predators and stay generally close to water, wallowing knee-deep in swamps and camouflaging themselves at the slightest hint of danger. Tapirs can quickly navigate forests, as they are fast runners, but this provides little protection from pursuers. Hunters follow the easily discernable trails they leave in their wake, and dogs are able to track the musky scent and the dung that marks their territories.
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