Tetrapod Zoology

Dave Hone (of Archosaur Musings) kindly provided the following photo, taken in Seoul Zoo. It features a South tropical American tapir – but which one? Test your skills…


I love tapirs. But they’re not always nice. In 1998 a Malayan tapir Tapirus indicus at Oklahoma Zoo bit a keeper’s arm clean off, and also caused facial injuries and a punctured lung to the woman during the attack. The tapir had a two-month-old baby, and this presumably explained its aggressive behaviour. Also worth noting is that Haddad et al. (2005) described a fatal attack by a tapir on a man, though in this case the man stabbed the tapir on discovering it in his corn field and it also later died from its wounds. Many thanks to Dallas Krentzel for bringing my attention to this case.

Ref – –

Haddad, V., Chagas Assunção, M., Coelho de Mello, R. & Ribeiro Duarte, M. 2005. A fatal attack caused by a Lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) in southeastern Brazil. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine 16, 97-100.


  1. #1 Collin
    September 1, 2009

    Brazilian tapir (T. terrestris)?

  2. #2 Cameron
    September 1, 2009

    Tapirus bairdii I believe.

    Not only did Melody the Malayan tapir bite off that woman’s arm, it did so at the mid-bicep, one of the more difficult places to do that I’d assume.

  3. #3 Milio
    September 1, 2009

    T.terrestris, I’d say it has a different colour pattern that that ob T.bairdii, and the hair seems too thin to be of T.pinchaque, but it may be.

    And I though getting an urine steam just barely missing my head was bad enough, those guys are nasty…

  4. #4 Sebastian Marquez
    September 1, 2009

    It looks like T. terrestris. I hate not being sure.

  5. #5 Kryptos18
    September 1, 2009

    I would also say T. terrestris mostly because of that little mohawk mane distinctive to the species and not the others.

  6. #6 Laelaps
    September 1, 2009

    “I love tapirs. But they’re not always nice.”

    I once saw a woman at a local roadside zoo feeding cheez-its to a tapir kept in a pen. (The zoo sold bags of peanuts and froot loops as animal food. The primates appeared to be quite the sugar junkies.) Thankfully, she stopped as I was headed over to explain that hand-feeding the tapir was a really bad idea. All of her fingers were intact.

  7. #7 Tk
    September 1, 2009

    I think it’s T. terrestris. I know not what to conclude from the coloration, but the mane seems decisive.

  8. #8 Weatherfac
    September 2, 2009

    Baird’s tapir! Just because I don’t know what the others look like!

  9. #9 Dartian
    September 2, 2009

    Judging by its profile, I’d also say it’s a Brazilian tapir Tapirus terrestris.

  10. #10 KW
    September 2, 2009

    Guessing T. terrestris because it looks like it has a mane. Obviously not T. indicus or T. pinchaque.

  11. #11 neil
    September 2, 2009

    Cloned Megatapirus no doubt, I think his name is snuppir.

  12. #12 Mike Keesey
    September 2, 2009

    Juts because everyone’s taken all the other guesses already, I’m going to guess that it’s Tapirus bairdii × terrestris (which apparently have been bred in captivity and have produced offspring). I’m probably wrong, but what’s the point in guessing something already guessed?

  13. #13 Anthony Docimo
    September 2, 2009

    Mountain Tapir, is my guess

  14. #14 Alessio
    September 2, 2009

    Tapirus terrestris. Because Tapirus bairdii has a different color pattern, and Tapirus pinchaque looks different.

  15. #15 Zach Hawkins
    September 2, 2009

    Mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque)?

  16. #16 Darren Naish
    September 2, 2009

    Thanks to all for comments. Megatapirus (comment 11): I have photos. As goes feeding tapirs in captivity (comment 6): many captive tapirs are friendly animals that enjoy human company. But, yes, they may well bite and caution is definitely warranted.

    Anyway… the animal shown in Dave’s photo is a Brazilian tapir Tapirus terrestris, as many of you correctly said. The presence of a neck mane is the main giveaway: this is absent in the otherwise similar Baird’s or Central American tapir T. bairdii. I can’t totally discount the possibility that the animal is a hybrid (see comment 12) – San Francisco Zoo kept a Baird’s x Brazilian hybrid, and its offspring, and there are others in captivity too, but they tend to look a bit freaky (see the pics at The Tapir Gallery).

    The Mountain tapir T. pinchaque is woolly-coated and with prominent pale lips, and thus very different. Are there more tapirs to come? The word on the street is that Marc van Roosmalen’s alleged new tapir, the anta-pretinho (discussed at Tet Zoo here), is not a distinct species… but I can say no more for the time being 🙂

  17. #17 Dave Hone
    September 2, 2009

    Just to be semantically picky while bringing up a point, I’d be amazed if said arm came ‘clean’ off. A colleague of mine was bitten by a Malayan tapir and while it was not so serious, it did leave four very jagged punctures in his thigh from the canines. In short I imagine a tapir bite that takes off a limb would be pretty messy in terms of the tissue damage (though of course most such accidents like that are).

  18. #18 Darren Naish
    September 2, 2009

    The lady’s entire arm was bitten off, at mid-biceps level: for one report go here. I don’t doubt it was messy and ragged, as you say, but that’s not what we mean by ‘clean off’. It means ‘completely off’.

  19. #19 Dallas
    September 2, 2009

    There’s also reports of a fatal attack by a tapir, although it seems that the victim was trying to stab it…

    “A female tapir weighing approximately 180 kg was discovered
    feeding in a 55-year-old man’s corn plantation.
    According to the man’s colleague, the man grabbed and
    stabbed the animal, which, in turn, then attacked and
    repeatedly bit the man, causing fatal injuries. The tapir
    inflicted at least 3 deep bites that caused severe lesions
    and fatal hemorrhage. The tapir was later found near the
    farm, dead from the wounds inflicted by the farmer.”

    The pdf contains some graphic photos…


  20. #20 Zach Hawkins
    September 2, 2009

    On the topic of new Tapir’s is there any new’s on the eleged pygmy brazilian Tapir?

  21. #21 Darren Naish
    September 2, 2009

    Zach: see comment 16, last paragraph. There is more news but I’m not allowed to share it, yet.

  22. #22 Nathan Myers
    September 2, 2009

    ‘clean off’

    … and them’s good eatin’!

  23. #23 Dave Hone
    September 2, 2009

    I did *say* I was being semantically picky – I know what you meant!

  24. #24 Jackson Landers
    September 3, 2009

    Am I alone in finding that tapirs look unfinished? Like something that is only halfway along in its evolution towards a more permanent model. That snout looks like it has potential to develop into something very clever but its not quite there yet. I’d really like to check back with tapirs in 3 million years or so to see how they’ve come along.

  25. #25 retrieverman
    September 3, 2009

    Well, I think it’s a Brazilian tapir, because of the mane.

    But there are captive hybrids between Baird’s and Brazilian tapirs: http://www.tapirback.com/tapirgal/tbtap015.htm

  26. #26 brad tabar
    December 18, 2009

    I was bitten by a Brazilian Tapir on the hand at the Brevard Zoo in Florida in the late 90’s. It left tooth indentations of its canines, premolars, and molars on me but applied little pressure. It was more of a warning nip, although it did take my whole hand in its mouth. I feel lucky I didn’t make it too angry. This is why one should never try to pet a non-domesticated animal bigger than oneself.

  27. #27 David Marjanović
    December 18, 2009

    That snout looks like it has potential to develop into something very clever but its not quite there yet. I’d really like to check back with tapirs in 3 million years or so to see how they’ve come along.

    That’s not how natural selection works.

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