By Richard Fowler.
Tapirs (Tapirus terristris) are big mammals, up to 600 pounds, the largest terrestrial animal in the region.
They are vegetarians and eat many different kinds of fruits, nuts and especially leaves.
They only eat a few from any one tree because of the alkaloids, a chemical that plants
produce as a method of self-defense and healing. By the way, these same alkaloids are
what the indians use to make Curare, a tranquilizer with which they use to coat their
These crepuscular animals range from high jungle to low jungle areas.
Although they are seldom active during the daylight hours they can sometimes be
"jumped up" from their sleep. That is to say, that you can be walking through the jungle
and walk near one of them and they will jump up from its sleep and startle you!
They are naturally aquatic, they love the water.
The head of a tapir is characterized by a short, flexible trunk.
Besides man and loss of habitat, jaguars are its primary predator.
Tapirs have poor vision, but have good hearing, excellent smell and can run very fast.
It is always fun to see the babies. They are spotted and striped for camouflage and are
very cute. Indians sometimes keep baby tapirs for pets, like a big pig.
On several occasions I had been offered tapir meat as a guest of an Indian host.
The first time I obliged out of politeness. The rest of the other times I dug right in
because it is so good! We occasionally see groups of tapirs in the late afternoon or
early morning swimming the rivers or crossing a trail. We always see the tracks and
other signs that let us know they are here!
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