Monday, October 22, 2007
Tapirs look something like pigs with trunks, but they are actually related to horses and rhinoceroses. This eclectic lineage is an ancient one—and so is the tapir itself. Scientists believe that these animals have changed little over tens of millions of years. Tapirs have a short prehensile (gripping) trunk, which is really an extended nose and upper lip. They use this trunk to grab branches and clean them of leaves or to help pluck tasty fruit. Tapirs feed each morning and evening. During these hours they follow tunnel-like paths, worn through the heavy brush by many a tapir footstep, to reach water holes and lush feeding grounds. As they roam and defecate they deposit the seeds they have consumed and promote future plant growth. New World tapirs generally live in the forests and grasslands of Central and South America. A notable exception is the mountain (or woolly), tapir, which lives high in the Andes Mountains. Woolly tapirs, named for their warm and protective coat, are the smallest of all tapirs. They are herbivores. They live for 25 to 30 years.