Malayan Tapir Facts: They Can Swim and Stay under Water for Several Minutes

Malayan tapirs are fascinating creatures. They fascinate and intrigue wildlife enthusiasts worldwide. Sadly, their population is decreasing due to human activities. In this article, we will explore some interesting and little-known fun facts about Malayan tapirs, shedding light on their unique traits, behavior, habitat, and their crucial role in our ecosystem.

Malayan tapir
Scientific name: Tapirus indicus
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Genus: Tapirus

1. They have distinctive appearance

The Malayan tapir (also known as the Asian tapir) has a peculiar look. This species is a perissodactyl and related to rhinos and horses, however, it looks like a pig.

These creatures are often referred to as the “Oreo” tapir due to the arrangement of the black and white colors on their body. Their front and back parts are black, while the middle part is white or gray.

The Malayan tapir is also known as Oreo tapir

Although the pattern may not appear to be ideal for camouflage, it does a remarkable job of breaking up their outline, rendering them almost invisible in their natural jungle or shaded habitat. This unique characteristic also allows them to blend in with large rocks when resting during the day.

Juvenile Malayan tapirs have stripes and spots that help them blend into the forest’s mottled sunshine and plant shadows.

The Malayan tapir is the largest of the four tapir species, possessing a stout shape with a tapering front and rounded back. They have a size of 6-8 feet (183-240 cm) in length and stand at a height of 3-3.5 feet (90-105 cm). They weigh up to 550-700 pounds (250 to 320 kg), with the males being smaller than the females.

Cute baby Malayan tapir

These animals have large black ears with a white rim, a stubby tail, and small beady eyes. Like elephants and anteaters, the tapirs own prehensile proboscis that extends from the enlarged nose and upper lip. This flexible nose is used to pluck leaves and shoots from trees, handle objects and guide them to the mouth, and navigate forest trails through sniffing.

Their necks are protected by hard, thick skin that protects them from predator bites. Their sharp teeth and strong jaws may cause a devastating bite when they attack.

April the 27th is World Tapir Day. The word “tapir” itself comes from the Brazilian Indian language and means “thick,” which is fitting given the species’ robust and durable hide.

2. They’re the only tapir species in Asia

There are 4 species in the tapir family: The south American tapir, the mountain tapir, Baird’s tapir, and the Malayan tapir. While the first 3 species live in South and Central America, the Malayan tapir is the only species that inhabit Asia. They can be found in various regions, including southern Vietnam, the island of Sumatra, the Malaysian peninsular, Thailand, and southern Myanmar.

These creatures prefer living in rainforests with ample vegetation, ranging from lowlands to mountainous regions. However, they avoid habitats of tough climates with seasonal fluctuations.

Malayan tapirs typically do not reside in higher elevations, however, a tiny group of these species has been observed in the Thai ranges at elevations of 1.2 mi (2000 m).

The Drowzee character in Pokemon is inspired by the Malayan tapir.

3. They are herbivores

Malayan tapirs are both browsers and grazers. Their primary diet contains various plants, including soft shoots, moss, fruits from low shrubs, grasses, twigs, leaves, aquatic plants, and buds. Among 115 plant species they eat, Asian tapirs only like around 30 of them.

Malayan tapirs have adaptions to survive

To get food from high tree branches or on the forest floor, the animals use their snout like the way we use our fingers. Additionally, their prehensile trunks allow them to bend tall trees with a height of 26-32 feet (8-10 meters) to reach the leaves.

With their huge size, Malayan tapirs don’t have many predators. They are mostly preyed on by leopards, tigers, and even humans.

In Thailand, tapirs are called “P’som-sett,” which translates to “mixture is finished.” This name comes from a belief that tapirs were created using leftover parts of other animals.

4. They are excellent athletes

By nature, Asian tapirs are very timid and enjoy being alone. They only gather in groups when food is scared or when they need to find a partner. To claim territory, they mark it with urine on plants and typically stick to paths they have created in the brush.

These species are not nocturnal, they are actually crepuscular. This means they are active at dusk and dawn, and rest during the middle of the day and night.

Malayan tapirs don’t have good eyesight. They find it difficult to find food and evade predators in the dark. However, they make up for it with their exceptional sense of hearing and sense of smell. They rely on these senses to find ways, detect pheromones, and communicate.


Besides the smell, these creatures also use different ways to communicate, from tactile to acoustic signals. They emit high-pitched sounds such as creaks, clicks, and whistles, which can signify pain, anxiety, joy, or danger. In addition, when feeling threatened and getting ready to defend, they snort and stomp their feet on the ground.

Despite their large and heavy build, the species are excellent athletes. They are capable of climbing steep riverbanks, moving quickly from one location to another, and even leaping over small obstacles. Their streamlined shape allows them to move with impressive speed through dense undergrowth when escaping from predators.

Malayan tapirs are also proficient divers and swimmers. They can easily walk along riverbeds and remain submerged for several minutes to avoid predators and cool off. When diving, they use their snout as a snorkel, allowing them to breathe comfortably underwater.

5. Reproduction

Tapirs are monogamous animals. During the mating season from May to June, they mate only one time. After going through a gestation period of 390-400 days (13 months), females give birth to only one calf. And they do this every two years.

The newborn calf weighs approximately 15 pounds (7 kg). The baby doesn’t have the Oreo coat like the adult. Instead, they come in reddish-brown with white stripes and spots. These markings disappear within 4-8 months.

Tapir mother and baby

The growth rate of the Asian tapir calf is remarkably fast as they are able to stand within the first 1-2 hours of their life. They are fed milk within 3-5 hours after being born and start taking solid food at approximately 2 weeks old. By the time they reach 3 weeks old, these young tapirs can swim.

When they are around 6 – 8 months old, they begin the weaning process. However, they remain close to their mother for another 6 – 4 months.

These mammals reach their full adult size when they are 18 months old and reach sexual maturity at the age of 2-4 years old. In the wild, the average lifespan of Malayan tapirs is about 25 years. However, they can live longer in captivity, about 30 years.

6. They play an important role

The Malayan Tapir is critical to the conservation of tropical environment biodiversity. Tapirs eat a diverse range of fruits and spread their seeds as they move around. According to researchers, tapirs distribute three times more seeds in areas that have undergone deforestation than in good environments. They also contribute to the maintenance and formation of the forest’s structure and diversity.


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The absence of Malayan Tapirs would cause an imbalance in the rainforest’s life cycle, many animals will extinct. That’s why protecting Malayan and other tapirs is very essential.

7. Conservation status

Asian tapirs are endangered, with less than 2500 adult individuals left according to the IUCN Red List. Sadly, their population is continuously declining.

The greatest threat to their survival comes from humans who hunt them for food, for their hides (skin), and entertainment. In Thailand, the young of these animals are also sold illegally for up to $5000 each.

Human activities (agriculture, livestock grazing, commercial construction, energy production, deforestation, and flooding caused by hydroelectric projects) also contribute to destroying their habitats.

Moreover, it has been recently discovered that anthropogenic noises have a negative impact on their reproductive health, causing further stress to this already struggling species.



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We are passionate animal enthusiasts with over a decade of experience studying animals. With a degree in zoology and conservation biology, we've contributed to various research and conservation projects. We're excited to bring you engaging content that highlights the wonders of the animal kingdom. We aim to inspire others to appreciate and protect wildlife through informative content grounded in expertise and passion. Join us as we delve into the captivating world of animals and discover the incredible stories they have to tell.

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