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Tapirs

( Originally Published 1936 )

Tapirs belong to a very ancient form of animal; indeed, they have hardly changed their appearance for many thousands of years, judging from the close resemblance they bear to the fossil skeletons of some of the old-time creatures. They have a short proboscis, much smaller than that of the elephants, and therefore of much less use, but still long enough to enable its owner to grasp and pull down the leaves and branches of trees, which it eats. The hair is very sparse over the body, and a curious fleshy crest runs along the neck and on top of the head in most species. The eyes are small and stupid in expression, and well indicate the character of the animal, which is noted for a singular lack of intelligence. Tapirs are shy and inoffensive creatures, and generally re-main hidden during the day, coming out at night to feed.

Tapir (Tapirus americanus)

This animal is the commonest and best known of the species, and is widely distributed in South America. It is usually of a brownish or pinkish colour when adult, but the young are covered thickly with short dark brown hair, over which run curious white markings or stripes in varied forms, less distinct as the animal grows older and finally merging into the monotone colour. See Plate 35, Fig. 15o. Tapirs are semi-aquatic and powerful swimmers, subsisting on aquatic plants and various roots and weeds which they are able to pull up with their prehensile lip, or snout. The voice is singularly small, considering the size of the animal, consisting of a high squeal much like that of a very young pig; the often mentioned resemblance to the hog, however, is slight in the form of the creature. It has a curious shrunken appearance in the hindquarters, and the short, fleshy tail is carried pressed close against the body. The feet are large, the toes well separated, and ending in rather sharply-pointed hoofs.

The South American Tapir is a favourite food of the jaguar, and the flesh is considered palatable by hunters who have eaten it. When alarmed, it makes a dash for the water, and if allowed to reach that element is apt to escape, as its powers of swimming and diving are extraordinary.

Malay Tapir (Tapirus indicus)

In character and habits the Malayan Tapir is much like the South American, but is quite different in colour, being curiously banded with pure white and jet black in sharp contrast. It is also considerably larger than the foregoing species. See Plate 35, Fig. 151. The young are black, with longitudinal stripes and rows of spots of a yellowish colour on the back and sides, and the under surface is white.



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