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Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Published 1997

Status and Action Plan of Baird's Tapir
(Tapirus bairdi)

Sharon Matola 1
Alfredo D. Cuarn 2
Heidi Rubio-Torgler 3

1 Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, Box 1787; Belize City, Belize
2 Wildlife Research Group, Dept of Anatomy, University of Cambridge; Downing Street; Cambridge CB2 3DY, UK
3 Fundacion Nayura, Avenida 13 #87-43; A.A. 55404; Bogota, Colombia


Baird's tapir is threatened primarily by habitat destruction and to a lesser degree by hunting. Assessments of populations, threats to habitats, and threats due to hunting are listed as priorities for action. Moreover, it is necessary to fortify protected areas into working conservation units. Other actions include educational programs and research.

Natural History


Figure 4.1 depicts a photo of Baird's tapir (Gill, 1865). An adult animal is 2m in length and weighs 150 - 300kg (Emmons and Feer, 1990). The systematic and taxonomic status has been reviewed by Hershkovitz (1954).

Figure 4.1. Adult Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii).
[Photo: F. Gohier (provided by M. Cole)]

Throughout its range Baird's tapir has several different names; tapir, anta, or danta are the most commonly used. In Belize, it is known as mountain cow. In Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia it is macho de monte. In Mexico it is danta in Chiapas and Tabasco, and anteburro in Veracruz and Oaxaca (Emmons and Feer 1990, Cuarn pers. obs.)

The name used in Mexico in Lacandon Maya is cash-i-tzimin (horse of the jungle), in Tzeltal is tzemen, and in Tojolabal is tzemen and niguanchan (big animal) (Cuarn pers. obs., March in litt.). The Kunas from San Blas, Panama, call the tapir, moli (in Tule kaya, the colloquial language); oloalikinyalilele, oloalikinyappi, and oloswikinyaliler (in Sakla kaya, the political language); and ekwilamakkatola and ekwirmakka (in Suar mimmi kaya, the spirit language used in rituals) (Sherzer, 1985).


Originally distribution was from Veracruz, in southeastern Mexico to west of the Andes, from the northern portion of Colombia (west of the Rio Cauca) to the Gulf of Guayaquil in Ecuador (Hershkovitz, 1954). Range area is estimated at 1,186,300km2 (Arita et al. 1990)

Distribution map, Baird's tapir

Figure 4.2. Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii) distribution map. Although the present possible distribution is contigously shaded, it should be noted that much of this area is highly fragmented.

The wild lands still existing in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize comprise more than 50% of total habitat available for Baird's tapir (March 1992). Occurrence in South America was unknown until an individual captured on the river in Guayaquil, Ecuador, was taken by boat to the San Diego Zoo, where it died in 1945 (Hershkovitz, 1954). Today the species occurs west of the Andes in South America, in Colombia and Ecuador (Eisenberg 1989).

A closer look at current tapir distributions indicates that it is surviving principally in areas where access by humans is difficult; hence, where suitable habitat still remains. The Baird's tapir is endangered throughout its range (Fig. 4.2).

Habitat association

In general, Baird's tapir is found in humid habitats from sea level to 3600m, including marshes, mangroves, swamps, wet tropical rain forests, riparian woodland, monsoonal deciduous forest, dry deciduous forest, montane cloud forest, and, in some areas, above tree line (Eisenberg 1989, Thornback and Jenkins 1982, MacKinnon 1985, March 1994, Jorgenson in litt., Naranjo and Vaughan in litt.).

Williams (1984) studied Baird's tapir in northwestern Costa Rica using radio telemetry. His results of habitat association in standard percentage of use are provided in Table 4.1. These data suggest that Baird's tapir is associated with shaded cover during the day (Williams 1984). Naranjo (1995a) found that palm swamps and secondary lowland rainforest were used more than primary lowland and montane forests in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica. In Belize, Fragoso (1991b) found browsed plants primarily in flood-plains, suggesting that tapirs preferred foraging in these areas.

Table 4.1. Habitat use by tapirs in northwestern Costa Rica (Williams 1984).
Type of Habitat


Adult Male – nocturnal cyle
lowland riparian rainforest
regenerating lowland riparian rainforest
lowland mixed forest
mangrove swamp
lowland deciduous forest
hillside mixed forest
upper beach
seasonal swamp
tidal mud flats

Adult Male – diurnal cycle
lowland riparian rainforest
regenerating lowland riparian rainforest
lowland mixed forest
hillside mixed forest

Juvenile Male – nocturnal cycle
lowland riparian rainforest
regenerating lowland riparian rainforest
lowland mixed forest
mangrove swamp
lowland deciduous forest
hillside mixed forest

Juvenile Male – diurnal cycle
regenerating lowland riparian rainforest
lowland riparian rainforest





Their habitats tend to include a permanent supply of water. Several Mexican localities however, including Selva de El Ocote, Calakmul, and La Sepultura, do not have an annual supply of water (A. Cuarn pers. obs., March 1994). Usually, tapirs will shelter in forests or thickets by day, and emerge at night to browse. Trails are used to access forest areas, and riverbed are entered and left at the same places (Enders 1935, Williams 1984). The natural history of Baird's tapir dictates the necessity of water in its habitat; they defecate in fresh water and they consume aquatic vegetation. Naranjo (1995a) observed tapirs resting in stream pools for at least 2 hr. Williams (1984) observed two individuals walking along a river-bottom, completely submerged for approximately 15 min.

Baird's tapir (continued)

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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