An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Perissodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Perissodactyla
        Family: Tapiridae
          Genus: Tapirus

Tapirus indicus

      Malayan tapir


Tapirus indicus [Desmarest, 1819].  
Citation: Nouv. Dict. Hist. Nat., Nouv. ed., 32: 458.
Type locality: Malaysia, Malay Peninsula.

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 185-240 cm / 6-8 ft.
Shoulder Height: 90-105 cm / 3-3.5 ft.
Tail Length: 5-10 cm / 2-4 in.
Weight: 250-320 kg / 550-704 lb.

The body colouration is unmistakable: the front part of the body (ending just after front legs) and hind legs are black, while the back has a saddle of grizzled white or grey.  While this colouration seems conspicuous, it renders the tapir nearly invisible in the moonlit jungle at night.  Young animals are completely different from their mature relatives, resembling brown watermelons with whitish stripes and spots on a chocolate brown coat.  They lose this baby coat 4-7 months after birth.  The thick hide is sparsely covered with hair, and there is no mane or ridge on the neck.  The body is round and barrel-shaped, the tail is no more than a stump.  The nose and upper lip are extended to form a short, prehensile proboscis.  The eyes are small and beady, and the ears are rimmed with white.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 390-403 days.
Young per Birth: 1
Weaning: 6-8 months.
Sexual Maturity: At about 3 years
Life span: Up to 30 years

Breeding occurs in May and June.

Ecology and Behavior

Malayan tapirs are primarily - although not exclusively - nocturnal.  They cover large distances in their search for food, making frequent stops to eat.  Regularly used paths are used in these foraging excursions, and several may lead to bodies of water.  Each animal occupies a large territory which overlaps that of its neighbours.  These paths and territories are marked with urine, which is sprayed on small bushes and plants.  When moving, the Malayan tapir walks slowly with its head down, which probably allows it to pick up the scents of other tapirs.  Individuals also communicate with shrill whistles.  The Malayan tapir is a good climber, scaling steep slopes with relative ease, and when alarmed gallops off with surprising speed.

Family group: Solitary.
Diet: Tender leaves and shoots.
Main Predators: Leopards, tigers, humans.


Dense tropical lowland rainforest in the Indochinese peninsula.

Range Map (Redrawn from Mohd Khan bin Momin Khan, 1997)

Conservation Status

The Malayan tapir is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN (1996).


Tapirus is a Latinized corruption of tapyra - the Tupi name for the tapir (the Tupis are an aboriginal tribe from the Amazon).  Indicus (Latin) of India: this name is misleading as this ungulate does not live in India, and was probably meant to refer to the East Indies (Malay Peninsula).  Due to its larger size, different range, and unique colouration, this tapir is sometimes placed in the genus Acrocodia.

Literature Cited

Eisenberg, J. F., C. P. Groves, and K. MacKinnon.  1990. Tapirs.  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker. New York: McGraw-Hill. Volume 4, pp. 597-608.

Mohd Khan bin Momin Khan.  1997.  Status and action plan of the Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus).  In Tapirs - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan.  IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group. Compiled by D. M. Brooks, R. E. Bodmer, and S. Matola.  IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.  Available online at

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

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