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Thailand's Threatened Wildlife (October 1999)

Tapir AS THAILAND'S development continues apace, with more farmland needed each year to feed the people, and land and forest resources exploited to fuel the demands of industry for natural raw materials, so does the pressure increase on this amazing country's formerly abundant wildlife. Often it is the large herbivorous mammals that suffer most from erosion of their habitat, for their size means that they must eat a great deal of vegetation each day. Also many of the great herbivores are lowland dwellers, and the destruction of wild grasslands and lowland forests has been far more extensive than the depredation of the upland woods.

The tapir family was widespread in older geological times in the dense forests and grassy areas of the northern Andes of South America, in Panama, Central America and in the Malay Archipelago of Asia. The tapir have been driven to near extinction from Thailand, or exist as very small populations.

The Malayan Tapir, Tapirus indicus, is so like the ancestral remains of an animal from the Pliocene Epoch that the two are classified in the same genus. It is a creature of the evergreen lowland rain forests, such as are found in the South of Thailand. It is a strange-looking creature with its black and gray piebald body, short legs with hooves, elongated flexible snout, small eyes and erect ears. It moves like a hippopotamus and, like the hippo, water is its safe haven from its enemies of the cat family. The loss of its lowland forest habitat, particularly riverine forests, has greatly reduced its numbers in Thailand, but it is still more common than the rhinos.

For its large size, the tapir's high pitched squeal, sounds more like a bird call, and seems to be a means of communication with other members of the family group living in the thick foliage of the rain forest.

Surprisingly hard to see in its sun and shade dappled environment, it is also a great swimmer, with remarkable buoyancy. The Tapir prefers to forage in the cool of the night which is not surprising for it hardly looks up depending only on its sensitive nose to search for food. It feeds on leaves, fruit and other vegetation. Its populations may still be viable in the larger protected parks such as Khlong Saeng and Khao Sok in the southern part of Thailand, but it is not an adaptable creature and must stay in its favorite riverine rain forests to find the food it needs to survive.

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