My relationship with the tapir has been frustrating to say the least. I have smelt tapirs (yummy), heard tapirs, and found fresh tapir tracks and dung, but I have never clapped eyes on these long-nosed oddities. In hindsight my experience is not unusual – the tapir may be the biggest animal in the Amazon, but it is also one of the hardest to see.
The forest-dwelling Brazilian (aka South American) tapir can weigh as much as 700lb, and is a cross between a pig, a rhinoceros and a horse. Apart from its size, the most impressive thing about the tapir is its nose or proboscis. This highly flexible structure contains no bone or cartilage (much like an elephant’s trunk), and these vegetarian beasts use it like a finger to get at hard-to-reach plants and berries. Tapirs often exhibit the freakish sounding ‘flehmen response’ where they raise their snouts and bare their teeth, in order to detect scents more accurately.
Tapirs range in colour from brown to grey, but the stripy babies are without doubt the cutest members of the family. Like all jungle animals, tapirs are threatened by logging and habitat loss, but fortunately they have few natural predators as only jaguars, pumas and caimans are big enough to prey on them.
The Tambopata National Park in Peru is home to one of the largest tapir populations in South America (it is estimated that there are more tapirs than humans in the range!) and although you’d be extremely lucky to actually see one, our guests often report coming across fresh tapir tracks. The Brazilian Pantanal is the one place in the world that you can realistically hope to spot a tapir - the open grasslands of the Pantanal make spotting all animals (not just tapirs) much easier, and if your number one priority is spotting big mammals, the Pantanl may be a better better than the Amazon.
You definitely won’t see a tapir if you don’t come to South America, though...So whether it's the Amazon or the Pantanal, speak to a Destination Expert about curating a tailor made Peru itinerary just for you.
Thanks to Tambako the Jaguar for the images in this post.