Malayan Tapir

Tapirus indicus


Malayan or Asian Tapir

The largest tapir in the world, the Malayan tapir (also Asian tapir), is the only kind of tapir living in Southeast Asia. Once, he lived in the whole world region northwest of the Wallace Line up to south China; nowadays his habitat is heavily fragmented and reduced to spots on the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. The species is classified as 'endangered'.

'Malayan Tapir in the Zoo of Songkhla / Thailand' by Asienreisender

A Malayan tapir in the zoo of Songkhla, south Thailand. Image by Asienreisender, 3/2005

Malayan tapirs prefer the tropical lowland forests as habitat, but have been seen also in altitudes up to 2,300m. They grow up to a length of 250cm to 300cm by a shoulder height of 100cm to 130cm. Their weight varies between 280kg to 400kg of an adult; particularly large ones gain a weight of up to 540kg. Males grow larger than females. Their face is characterized by a rostrum.

The characteristic colour of the animal, black with a large white part in their middle, is part of their disguise. White are also the tips of the ears. There are seldom exceptions from this pattern, some of the animals are completely black.

The tapirs eyesight is weak, they are rather short-sighted. Particularly important for them are hearing and smelling. Communication happens with a variety of different sounds. They also mark their territories with urin, which has always an individual scent.

Malayan tapirs are shy animals and are seldom to see in the wild. Besides, they are nocturnal and disappear in the mornings into the dense green. Tapirs are good swimmers and divers and spend much time in the water. Usually, they live solitair, except in the time of coupling, when several individuals come together. They live territorial in areas who comprise of several square kilometers.

The species' diet is exclusively vegetarian and consists of leaves, water plants, twists and fruits. On the search of food, the tapir is scanning the ground with his rostrum in a zick-zack pattern. Remarkable is that the tapirs like to meet at salty ponds who have high concentrations of natrium, potassium and calcium.

Tapirus Indicus
'Painting of a Malayan Tapir | Dusit Zoo | Bangkok' by Asienreisender

A Malayan / Asian tapir, painting on the outer walls of Dusit Zoo, Bangkok. Image by Asienreisender, 5/2012

They get pubescent in the age of three years, reproduction rate is rather low. Pregnancy time extends a year, until a single cub is born. The colour of the newborns is brownish with bright ribbons or spots, what serves as a camouflage. A cub weights nine to ten kilogrammes. After a time they suck up to 9 liters of milk per day from their mother. After a year, the young one becomes independend from the mother. Life expectency is estimated 30 to 35 years.

The natural enemy of the tapir is, after homo sapiens, the tiger. But the tiger doesn't seem to be a big threat. The tapirs are themselves not aggressive or dangerous for humans; they would rather avoid vicinity to people.

The largest threat for the Malayan tapir is the destrucion of the tropical rainforests and the rapid urbanization in Southeast Asia. Hunting is another issue; tapir meat brings much money (it's sold under the name 'mu-nam'. Hunting is done with dogs who find the rare animals in their hideouts. Disease transfer from domesic animals to the tapirs is another problem. In fact it's estimated that very few individuals of the species are still alive, probably much less than 1,500 in total. They will extinct within the next years.

Malayan Tapir with Calf
'Painting of a Malayan Tapir with Calf | Dusit Zoo | Thailand' by Asienreisender

Painting of a Malayan tapir on the outer walls of Dusit Zoo, Bangkok. Image by Asienreisender, 5/2012


This article has been triggered by having seen, to my surprise, a Malayan tapir in the zoo of Songkhla. The sources used were 'Mammals of Thailand' and, moreover, 'Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia - Volume 15 - Mammals 4'.