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Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Published 1997

Status and Action Plan of the Malayan Tapir
(Tapirus indicus)

continued from previous page

Status and threats

The Malayan tapir has been categorized as Vulnerable (VU: A1c+2c, B2cd+3a, C1+2b) according to the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals (IUCN 1996).


Forest conversion to agriculture is the most serious threat to the survival of tapirs. This is true in all countries where the species occurs. In Peninsular Malaysia oil palm and rubber are the major crops, occupying close to 40,000km2. In recent years however, agricultural development has slowed down as a result of rapid development of industries and the manufacturing sector. The extent of forest still remaining in Peninsular Malaysia is approximately 44%; National Parks and Wildlife Reserves cover about 5%.

Lowland and hill forest in Peninsular Malaysia ranging in elevations from 0 to 720m, covers an area of 47,000km2 (Forest Dept. 1995). A conservative estimate based on a male home range of 12.75km2 gives a minimum population estimate of 369 animals.

The Malayan tapir has been given total protection since 1955 under the Wild Animals and Birds Ordinance No. 2 of 1955. Law enforcement is effective and of more than 5000 cases of violations each year, very few involve the tapir. Tapirs do occasionally get caught in steel wire snares which are set mainly for wild pigs. In such an incident in July 1995 a tapir was rescued near Seremban town, 60km south of Kuala Lumpur but the tapir died subsequently due to dehydration. There is a ban on the use of steel wire snares and the penalties are stiff. Any person found setting or having in possession steel wire snares numbering less than 25 can be liable for a maximum fine of RM5000.00 (US$2000.00), imprisonment of up to 5 years, or both. The penalty for having 25 or more steel wire snares carries a mandatory jail sentence of up to 10 years.

Tapirs are not hunted intentionally with any frequency, although there have been accidental shooting of tapirs mistaken for other game animals in Malaysia. The meat is consumed occasionally by aborigines. Tigers (Panthera tigris) have been known to kill tapirs but such cases are few in number. There have been a few cases of tapirs smuggled from Malaysia into Thailand and Singapore.


In Sumatra forest conversion for human settlement and agriculture such as tobacco, oil palm, and rubber is the major threat to conservation of tapir (Santiapilli and Ramono 1989, Ramsay in litt.). Gold mining is also considered a threat. Sumatra had an almost continuous forest cover prior to the year 1900 (Santiapilli and Ramono 1989). It was estimated that about 20% to 35% of the original lowland forest remained about a decade ago (Whitten et al., 1984).

Much of the Sumatran population occurs outside of protected areas, especially in central Sumatra (Santiapilli and Ramono 1989, Ramsay in litt.). In Way Kambas National Park, southern Sumatra, 200 individuals are estimated to survive (Santiapilli and Ramono 1989). The trans-migration programs from other areas is a threat in central Sumatra and elsewhere because of increased human population density and associated habitat conversion (Ramsay in litt.).

The tapir has been protected in Indonesia since 1931. In Sumatra however there is a lot of sport hunting by those who have access to firearms, potentially shooting anything that moves. Those individuals who do not have access to firearms use steel snares which are harmful to all terrestrial species which can be trapped. The non-hunters appear to be part of the predominantly Muslim population of Sumatra. The Muslim population considers eating anything superficially similar to a pig to be taboo (Blouch 1984).

Thailand and Viet Nam

Forest cover in Thailand decreased from 57% in 1961 to 10 to 13% in 1989 (Rabinowitz 1991). In Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary about 20 to 30 individuals are estimated to survive (Ngampongsai in litt.).

The tapir is protected in Thailand. The tapir populations in Thailand are restricted to sanctuaries and parks in western and southern forests, where hunting is a threat regardless of laws (Ngampongsai in litt.). A young animal may be sold for US$5500.00 by Thai wildlife export companies (Rabinowitz 1991).

According to Professor Vo Quy, Nam Ray is the only area in Viet Nam where the tapir may be found (Johnsingh and Dung 1995).

Action Plan

I. Tapir conservation strategy

The tapir is a large mammal that occupies various habitat types from the lowlands to montane forest. It is a very important flagship species, where many species living in sympatry would be placed under an umbrella of protection. Its conservation will indirectly conserve biodiversity. Viable populations of the species are necessary in all areas of its distribution. Population estimates are needed in all areas as a first step. The problems facing tapir in every country of occurrence have to be evaluated, with appropriate required actions recommended for implementation.

II. Field research

Surprisingly little is known about the Malayan Tapir. Its distribution, for example, has never been studied in depth. Tapirs are a forgotten species and it is often assumed that they are not threatened because they do not offer valuable horns, skin, or teeth, and because they are considered inedible by the Muslim population. But in reality the situation may be much worse with continued deforestation and human disturbance. More intensive fieldwork is urgently needed.

It is difficult to implement actions, when so little is known of regional statuses and threats. Therefore, baseline status surveys are needed (prioritized with first listed) in Malaysia, Sumatra, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand (particularly in the Tigapuluh hills, between Jambi and Riau Provinces) which would simultaneously identify plant species needed to support long-term populations. The status surveys should determine where the animals are and in what numbers, while assessing threats and determining ways to counter such threats.

Updates of populations previously studied are needed as well. Additionally, the reasons for some populations being at a higher density than others should be identified. Ecological studies should be done in different successional stages of forest, to determine what effect different logging intensities have upon populations (Williams and Petrides 1980).

III. Recovery of populations at risk

Population and habitat viability analyses of populations at risk are needed to prepare regional Action Plans. Additional assessments of threats are also needed for evaluating management options.

Things to consider when designing reserves include human population density in a region, viable dispersal routes, adequate size to maintain 500 individuals over the long term, and suitable habitat (Santiapilli and Ramono 1989). If logging is essential, selectively log timber which is only greater than 50cm in diameter at breast height (DBH) (Santiapilli and Ramono 1989). Additionally, control hunting in logging areas and ban the use of snares and traps.

Wherever they are established, protected areas are relatively small when compared to categories of multiple use forest. As for Malaysia, these multiple use forest areas hold more tapir than all the protected areas combined. The situation in Sumatra is reportedly similar, with most tapirs occurring outside of protected areas. Reports in Thailand and elsewhere appear to indicate the reverse. These multiple use forests are nevertheless very important to species conservation. Efforts have to be made to link those forests which contain tapirs with protected areas. Most of the forests are broken into many islands. A system of corridors would allow the animals free movement between these forests and protected areas.

IV. Conservation activities in protected areas

Protected areas are established for the sole purpose of protection of the flora and fauna and obviously they are the most important sites for tapir conservation. A major recommendation is to concentrate field efforts on viable wild populations in adequately large protected areas. These areas should receive priority in terms of funding, personnel, and field efforts.

Protection and management of the species is of top priority. The law enforcement unit of relevant agencies must emphasize tapir protection. The staff will also have to do extension work to promote community development and involvement in conservation activities.

V. Capacity development

Wildlife departments or similar organizations throughout tapir range states should be established if one does not currently exist. Moreover, such departments should be upgraded and given a higher status in government hierarchy.

Personnel involved in wildlife management will need more exposure and training in population biology and protected areas management. Such training must include public awareness, monitoring and censusing tapirs, law enforcement, and extension programs. Support and cooperation of local communities to provide useful information for tapir protection and management should be stressed in the training programs.

Economic incentives are also important to local communities. Communities which have depended on forests for their livelihood need to be included in any plan. Suitable agroforestry projects can generate income for communities whose participation and support are needed for tapir conservation.

VI. Monitoring of tapir trade

Tapirs make attractive exhibits in zoos. Most zoos in southeast Asia have tapirs. There are 116 individuals among 37 ISIS registered institutions (ISIS 1993) and an international studbook exists. In some countries there is a growing demand for tapirs in zoos, the effect of which can be detrimental to existing populations.

The tapir is listed on CITES Appendix I (Burton and Pearson 1987). Monitoring of the illegal tapir trade is essential, as such commerce may be the main cause of decline of tapir populations. There is a ready market for tapirs, and wildlife traders are willing to pay several thousand dollars (US) per individual.

Brooks, Daniel M.; Bodmer, Richard E.; Matola, Sharon (compilers). 1997. Tapirs - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. (English, Spanish, Portuguese.) IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. viii + 164 pp.
Online version: http://www.tapirback.com/tapirgal/iucn-ssc/tsg/action97/cover.htm

Copyright © 1997 International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

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