The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Prairie Dog
Story Of The Wild Boar
Story Of The Porcupine
Story Of The Hippopotamus
Story Of The Jackal
Story Of The Tapir
Story Of The Monkey
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Story Of The Tapir
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In South America I shot any number of that queer animal which forms the connecting link between the elephant and the hog, which bears a close resemblance to a rhinoceros and which is called a tapir. The snout is lengthened into a kind of proboscis, or trunk, like the elephant's but is comparatively short.
It was my fortune to witness the method by which the jaguar kills a tapir, for next to man the big spotted cat is the deadly foe of that animal.
With my native hunters, I was following, the course. of a small river, expecting at every moment to come upon a tapir asleep. It was getting late in the evening and was time for the animals to be moving about in search of food.
Suddenly my Indian guide put up his hand in warning, and I took it as a sign that we were near the game. I stopped and peered ahead through the tall weeds and undergrowth,' and could scarcely repress an exclamation of surprise at what I saw. Stretched upon the low limb of a tree, near the river bank, was the most beautiful specimen of a jaguar I had ever seen. It was crouched, ready to spring, and its long tail was swaying back and forth,
My gun went to my shoulder, but before I had taken aim the jaguar gathered itself and sprang into the reeds. At the same moment a loud grunt and shrill whistle broke the stillness, and a huge tapir with the jaguar clinging by its sharp claws to the animal's back went tearing through the tall reeds. The terrified tapir was running toward some thick underbrush, evidently with the hope of dislodging the jaguar. The big cat had fastened its teeth in the back of the tapir's neck, but had not reached a vital spot. If the tapir could succeed in reaching the thick undergrowth it possibly could scrape the jaguar off its back. Myself and my men followed as fast as we could. Once I thought the tapir would shake the jaguar off, but the latter got a fresh grip with its jaws, this time on the under part of the tapir's neck.
Just as they reached the edge of the thick underbrush, the poor tapir fell upon its knees with the jaguar still clinging to its throat and drinking its life blood. The rest of the struggle was brief, and the tapir quickly succumbed.
The jaguar had been so intent upon its prey that it had neither seen nor heard us. But now that the battle was over, it was more alert, and a slight motion of the reeds made by one of my native hunters attracted its attention. It raised its head, stained with the tapir's blood, and uttered its characteristic snarl.
I did not wish to take any chances on such a magnificent animal escaping me, and as its head was raised I fired and my bullet found its brain.
There are many species of the tapir. The American tapir is common enough in the hot countries of South America. Another is met with in the most elevated regions of the Cordilleras, and the Andes. A third inhabits the forests of the island of Sumatra, and the peninsula of Malacca.
The American tapir is seen on the borders of rivers. It sleeps during the day, and wanders about at night in search of its food, which consists of water-melons, gourds, and other vegetables. It is very fond of the water, and can remain below the surface for a considerable period. It is a very powerful animal, and, as it is furnished with a thick hide, it plunges through the brushwood, breaking its way past any obstacles that may oppose its progress.
Although in general perfectly harmless animals, fleeing precipitately before the smallest dog, tapirs will sometimes attack their enemies fiercely, this being more especially the case with females that have been deprived of their young. In such instances they rush violently at their foes human or otherwise and after knocking them down will trample upon and bite them after the manner of wild swine.
The Malayan tapir is the largest of the whole group, and differs from all the others in its parti-colored skin. In height this animal stands from three to three and one-half feet at the withers, and about four inches more at the rump, its length along the curves from the tip of the snout to the root of the tail being about eight feet.
They are fond of gamboling in the water and rolling in soft mud, their hides being often thickly plastered with the latter, probably as a protection against the bites of insects. Indeed, in many respects their mode of life is very similar to that of swine, although in their more solitary habits they present a closer resemblance to their cousins the rhinoceroses. Thus the males, except during the pairing-season, are said to be completely solitary, and even family parties are but rarely met with; and, except when several have been temporarily collected by the attraction of unusually good pasture, it is but very seldom that more than three individuals are seen in company. Tapirs commence to feed in the evening, and probably continue throughout the greater part of the night.
These animals are slow and deliberate in their movements, and I have often seen them walking with their snouts close to the ground, and by the aid of scent or sound detecting the presence of foes with extreme acuteness. When frightened, however, they rush blindly forwards, crashing through bushes or splashing through water in precipitate flight. The tapir is an excellent swimmer, crossing the largest rivers with facility, and even diving beneath the surface of the water, although with what object is not ascertained. Not improbably it may also walk along the beds of shallow rivers and lakes, as was observed to be the habit of a specimen of the Malayan species kept in captivity at Barrakpur.
The chief sound uttered by the American tapir is a peculiar shrill whistle, which has but little volume in comparison with the size of the animal by which it is emitted. This whistle is uttered at all seasons, and is not, as has been supposed, restricted to the pairing-season; the Malayan species give vent to a very similar sound. When suddenly disturbed, the American tapir utters a loud snort.
In some parts the South American Indians track the tapir to its lair, and shoot it as it lies. In Paraguay, when the hunters capture a young tapir of too large a size to be carried on a horse in front of the rider, they bore a hole in one side of the snout through which they pass a thong, and the animal will then follow readily enough when led.
Next to man, the worst foes of the tapir are the larger cats; the jaguar preying largely on the American species, and the tiger attacking its Malayan cousin. When an American tapir is attacked by a jaguar, it immediately rushes into the thickest cover in the hope of dislodging its assailant, which, from the thickness of the animal's hide, is unable to obtain a firm hold on its back. The tapir is not unfrequently successful; and many of these animals are killed with the marks of jaguar's claws on their backs.
It is now settled that there are several distinct kinds of tapirs to be found in Central and South America. The common tapir is only found in the low, hot regions, and rarely higher than an elevation of three thousand feet, but a more hardy species, known as the "mountain tapir," ranges on the eastern side of the Andes Mountains at an altitude of seven and eight thousand feet.
The brown tapir is never found outside of Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and more nearly resembles a swine than any of the other species. The common tapir is almost black, while the species to which I am referring has hair of a light brown color. It differs from the common tapir in other respects the skull, nose, etc. which differences are of more interest to scientists than to the lay reader.
The Malayan tapir exceeds all others in coloration in fact, no other animal is so strongly marked except the zebra. It is black from the end of its long snout, or short trunk, to a point behind the shoulders. From the shoulders to the hind-quarters it is pure white. The hind-quarters and legs are black. While full-grown tapirs are handsome in color contrasts, the young are handsomer still, and present a more varied scheme of coloration. In point of color they are among the handsomest of animals.
When the young of the Malayan tapir are born they are brownish and velvety black, marked with spots and stripes of brownish yellow and white on the sides of the body, the same as in the young of the wild boar. The Malayan tapir is also distinguished from the American tapir by the longer and more slender trunk and by the absence of the sinewy fatty comb on the neck and head, reaching to the ears in the American species.
The Malayan tapir is found in the peninsula from which it takes its name, extending northwards to, Tenasserim, and it also occurs in the island of Sumatra, and perhaps in Borneo.
Owing to its retiring nature, the Malayan tapir is but seldom seen in its native haunts, and our information as to, its habits is consequently meager in the extreme. Indeed, nothing is known as to its breeding habits, although it seems to be ascertained that but one young is produced at a birth.
Though seen so rarely, the tapir is by no means uncommon in the interior of the Tavoy and Mergui provinces. I have frequently come upon its recent footmarks, but it avoids the inhabited parts of the country. When taking to the water, it is reported to plunge in and walk along the bottom, instead of swimming. In spite of its shy and retiring habits, this tapir, if captured at a sufficiently early period, can be readily tamed and is said to exhibit considerable attachment to its master. -
The young of the American tapirs are striped and spotted after the manner of the Asiatic species.