The mountain tapir, or Tapirus pinchaque in scientific name, is among the world’s smallest and most primitive mammals. They live in the temperate-zone forests and grasslands in Colombia, Ecuador, and Northern Peru. They are usually found in high-altitudes, approximately 15,000 feet or 4,600 meters high. Mountain tapirs are also called “woolly tapirs” because they possess thick woolly fur, which aids in keeping them warm during the winter or whenever it’s freezing during the night.
There are several species of tapir – five in total. All of them belong to one group, the Tapiride family; Tapirus. Mountain Tapirs also belong to the Perissodactyla group, which was once a diverse group. However, only the horses, rhinos, and mountain tapirs represent the Perissodactyla in today’s time.
Like other tapirs, mountain tapirs have lengthy noses that can grasp or hold different things, such as leaves. Mountain tapirs are the second smallest species of tapirs, but they are the most endangered among the five. The remaining mountain tapirs may be found in some undisturbed tapir refuges in the Andes.
Characteristics of a Mountain Tapir
Even though the mountain tapir is the smallest and short-legged of the five tapir species, it remains to be the biggest mammal in the mountain range of the Andes. An adult mountain tapir weighs between 150 to 250 kilograms. They can be up to 180 centimeters long and 80 centimeters high when standing.
Another distinct characteristic of a mountain tapir is its furry skin. You may not know, but they are called wooly tapirs because of their long, thick, and woolly fur. This animal has thick dark brown to black fur.
In some adult mountain tapirs, their rump usually has two hair-free patches. A mountain tapir young usually has a camouflaged coat with round patches, which eventually disappears when it turns a year old. Another way to distinguish mountain tapirs is the white-colored line on their lips and at the tips of the mountain tapirs’ ears.
Mountain tapirs have small eyes, short and rounded ears, and have long snouts, which are kind of proboscis or trunk-like nose that droops down on their upper lip. These mammals have five toes, but only three are functional toes. The first one on the inner side is absent, and the fifth toe is reduced in front of its foot and becomes absent in its hindfoot.
Habitat and Ecology of Mountain Tapirs
You can usually find mountain tapirs in the tropical forests of Colombia, Ecuador, Malaysia, and Northern Peru. They usually reside in high-altitude mountains with treeless plateaus. They can also sometimes be found in cloud forests, which are wet and tropical mountain forests usually covered with clouds.
When talking about high-altitude mountains, they mean 1,400 to 4,300 meters-high mountains in the tropical forests of the Andes and the páramo ecosystem. Like the rest of the tapir species, mountain tapirs also like residing in water and mud. They usually do this to discourage biting flies, break loose from predators, or even cool themselves down.
Almost all mountain tapirs are very shy deep forests and swamps settlers. They like traveling near water and on well-worn paths. However, aside from forests and swamps, these animals also like inhabiting open grasslands. But when these mountain tapirs are disturbed or sense danger, they usually take off, covering themselves through shrubs and other plants, and go back hiding in the waters.
The Behavior of Mountain Tapir
Majority of mountain tapirs like existing alone. However, evidence shows that these species may also travel in pairs and usually gather together in places with natural salt licks. They also like navigating sure-footed the mountains of the Andes.
Mountain tapirs are also nocturnal animals. They like sleeping around in the morning and become active only during the late afternoon at 3:30 and until the early morning.
These mammals like eating leaves, fruits of different plants, and twigs. Mountain tapirs are also one of the species that are helpful in seed-dispersing. They are a major component in maintaining the structure and composition of the tropical forests they reside in.
When mountain tapirs turn 3 or 4 years old, they become sexually mature mammals. They do not have a definite mating season, but they usually produce one calf, sometimes twins, every couple of years. These calves stay with their mother tapir until they are two years old.
Other Facts About Mountain Tapirs
These animals are great swimmers – they are very fast and agile. They also have extremely strong skin, and they have streamlined bodies to allow quick navigation in the tropical rainforests. And even though they have short legs, these animals could run pretty fast.
These animals may be calm and not aggressive, but you cannot anticipate their behavior. These animals may strike without any warning signs. Mountain tapir strengths are very extreme since they are large creatures. So, you may get serious injuries from their attacks.
The thick skin on their neck helps with mountain tapir strengths, so holding them down will be challenging. They protect themselves using their powerful jaws and sharp fangs. Mountain tapir strengths are not to be underestimated as they have sharp incisors that help them from fighting predators.
Threats to Their Survival
There are numerous threats to the life of mountain tapirs. In South America, the principal predator of these animals is the jaguars. But for the mountain tapirs in Asia, one of their predators is the tiger.
However, wherever these mountain tapirs may be, their main and common enemy is the people. People usually like hunting mountain tapirs for their skin or fur, meat, and body part, which people use to create traditional medicine. The good news is that several local regulations have been created to protect these mountain tapirs. With the help of raising awareness about their endangerment, they slowly reduced the human threat.
Aside from humans, the main threats to these animals are warfare and loss of habitat. The loss of habitat is usually caused by intensive agricultural cultivations, such as poppy farming. This still comes back to the rapid growth of the human population in the region of the Andes.
Their habitat is also destroyed because of several constructions, such as the creation of new highways and dams. Aside from that, some people put cattle into their area. These cattle can spread diseases in the tapirs’ habitat and the mountain tapirs themselves.
Yes, people are no longer the primary threat to mountain tapirs’ lives because of local regulations. However, with the rapid population growth in Colombia, Ecuador, Malaysia, and Northern Peru, it all comes back to humans being a threat to the survival of these animals.
There are approximately less than 2,500 mature mountain tapirs left in the wild worldwide. You may no longer see these animals in Northern Colombia and Western Venezuela. However, there are still some mountain tapirs are left in Southern Colombia and Ecuador.
To help preserve the population of mountain tapirs, it is really important to protect these animals’ habitats. It is also crucial to raise awareness about the endangerment of mountain tapirs to prevent illegal hunting and forest destruction.
Some mountain tapirs became refugees in the National Sanctuary Tabaconas Namballe in Peru to preserve the population of these animals.