Tapirs are weird, weird animals. There are only four species worldwide; three of them are in Central and South America (the Baird's, lowland and mountain tapirs), where they're the largest land mammals. A fourth, the largest, is the Malayan tapir--the black one with the big white band around its middle.
The lowland tapir is slightly smaller than the Baird's tapir, which ranges through Central America. Lowlands take over in South America, and are characterized by a little mane and nuchal (neck) crest. They grow up to six feet long, 550 pounds. That's a lot of tapir.
Something like a horse, something like a pig, nothing like either, the tapir has a dense, muscular body and an extremely tough hide, which helps protect it from jaguar and puma attacks. Its main defense strategy is to run like hell, hoping to bash its attacker off against a tree in the process. It swims readily and well, and often spends hot days (are there any other kind in Guyana?) almost wholly submerged, when its prehensile snout comes in handy as a snorkel. They probably get pretty pruny.
Tapirs look completely prehistoric to me; they look like a reconstructed ancient weird mammal come to life. Like they were put together before evolution really had its act together. Like their name should be Uintatherium.
In the wild, tapirs subsist on fruits and leaves, traveling from fruiting tree to tree, looking for dropped treasures. They're a great disperser of many different kinds of seeds, being large enough to pass them whole.
Baby tapirs are striped and speckled like baby hogs or watermelons, the same kind of dappling that helps hide fawns when their mothers leave them alone in the forest. I loved Tommy's front feet--four-toed and --there's that word again--prehistoric, the kind of feet Eohippus had. You can see remnants of his baby spotting on his lower legs and feet, even though Tommy is a very old tapir.
Get a load of the underside of his foot. Ooh, paddy.
It takes a whole lot of mangoes to keep Tommy happy. Good thing there are enormous mango trees, each covering the square footage of your average American house, shading the grounds of Rockview Lodge. It makes feeding slobbery Tommy a lot easier.
He rooted around happily in his salad, looking first for the ripe mangoes. He'd finish the rest later.
Tommy was extremely sweet, and obviously enjoyed the attention my friend Erica and I heaped on his leathery hide. His lickiness was familiar and comforting to a Chet-starved Zick, who needs to be covered in some kind of animal slobber at all times to feel whole.
Erica and I were very well-matched as traveling companions--it was a dead heat as to which of us was more animal crazy. Here, she meets Tommy for the first time.
Prehistoric, tapir time.