Mountain tapir

The only tapir species found exclusively in the mountains

David Sifry

A less familiar but equally fascinating member of the tapir family that distinguishes itself by thriving in the high-altitude cloud forests of the Andes Mountains. Unlike its relatives who prefer the dense, humid environments of tropical rainforests, the mountain tapir has carved out a niche in cooler, more rugged terrains. This adaptation is visibly evident in their thick, wooly coats, a natural insulation against the often freezing temperatures of their mountainous habitat. A distinctive white band around their lips further sets them apart, adding to their unique appearance among tapir species.

Mountain tapirs exhibit crepuscular behavior, being most active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. These periods of activity allow them to forage with some protection from potential threats and harsh elements. During the day, they seek refuge in the dense underbrush, near water sources, or in mud, which not only offers them a place to rest but also helps regulate their body temperature and provides protection from parasites.

As keystone species, mountain tapirs play a crucial role in the biodiversity of the Andean cloud forests. Their feeding habits facilitate the dispersal of seeds from the various plants they consume, contributing to the regeneration and health of their forest habitat. This ecological service underscores the interconnectedness of species within these ecosystems and highlights the significance of the mountain tapir beyond its immediate survival.

However, the mountain tapir faces a precarious future, with less than 2,500 individuals estimated to remain in the wild. The challenges they encounter are manifold, including habitat destruction due to deforestation and agricultural expansion, poaching for their meat and perceived medicinal properties, and the spread of diseases from domestic livestock. These threats have contributed to a significant decline in their population, emphasizing the urgent need for conservation efforts.


Population est.
Official estimate
Extinct locally

Did you know?

  • Their natural predators are only the jaguars.
  • Footprints were found up to 4,700 m (15,700 ft).
  • Unlike other tapirs, they have a long coat, keeping them warn in cold climate.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No