The Tapir is listed as endangered. These curious animals have bulky bodies and thick hair. They can be seen in Ecuador.
The Mountains or the Amazon jungle of Ecuador make it the ideal place to see one of these unique creatures in real life.
They are quite large, measuring roughly 2 meters from front to back and weighing as much as 300 kilograms.
They also have short legs and may stand only 1.2 meters at the shoulder, giving them a somewhat stunted appearance.
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The head is small with small eyes and erect ears combined with a short snout and thick neck that simply cannot be compared to any other creature.
Tapirs are odd-toed hoofed animals like the horses and rhinoceros, with 4 toes in the front and 3 in the back.
There are 4 species, one kind is native to Asia (T.andicus) and the other 3 are present on the American continent, with two of them still found in Ecuador.
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The Amazonian species (T.terrestris) and the Mountain species (T. pinchaque). The third one, the Coastal (T.bairdii) is now believed to be extinct in Ecuador.
The mountain tapir weighs about 225 kg (500 lb). It inhabits in the forests at altitudes of 2000 - 4300 mt in scrub habitats, dominated by stunted trees and shrubs.
It prefers moist habitats and bathes frequently. The mountain species is a browser, with a diet that includes ferns and plant shoots.
In contrast to other tapir species, which are predominantly nocturnal, the mountain species apparently is active during both daytime and nighttime.
Although mountain species are generally solitary, except for mothers with young, they have been seen in groups of 5 - 7 individuals.
Perhaps one of the more unusual features of this curious animal is the unusual toed hooves that it has. Its "split hoof" spreads out into very definite toes and this animal has four toes on each front foot and three on each back foot.
They use their unusual, short and flexible snouts to forage on plants, picking fruit, leaves and other forms of vegetation for consumption.
Fruit makes up the largest portion of their diet and they play a very important role in the dispersal of seeds in forests.
Thus, they play an important role in the ecology of their forest homes and their endangerment should also been seen as having a negative effect on the forests.
They are related to the primitive horse and to the rhinoceros.
Prehistoric tapirs inhabited Europe, North America and Southeast Asia, including China, with no remains having been found on the continents of Africa, Australia, or Antarctica.
Ancient species would not have looked much different from their cousins of the present day. Although their noses didn't grow to the present length until the last few million years.
Although we don't know much about their ancient migration patterns, they did migrate from Central to South America across the Panama about 2-3 million years ago.
Tapirs like to bathe, and will make treks to pools and rivers for this purpose. They swim well, climb well, and bulldoze paths through the vegetation of their habitats on which they also browse for their main food source.
They tend to feed in the early or late hours of the day, often before the sun comes up and after it sets. Thus they would be called "crepuscular" rather than truly nocturnal.
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Commonly, they sleep during the middle part of the night. However, this is not a hard-and-fast rule, and they can be active at any hour.
Their natural lifespan is approximately 30 years, and a single youngster is born after a gestation of about 13 months.
These animals are generally territorial with partially overlapping ranges, with the males probably being more territorial than the females. At times small family groups are seen in the wild, most often a mother and offspring.
They are in danger of disappearing because of habitat destruction, deforestation, and being hunted for their delicious meat and their thick skin.
Only the Amazonian species has a healthy population in some regions of the Amazon but it is also under pressure.
The good news are that now some projects are under way aimed to protect this species from disappearing.
Trekking in the Amazon Rainforest or the Andes Mountains of Ecuador will surely lead you to a Tapir encounter.
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