The mountain tapir is the smallest of the four tapir species and the only one not found in tropical rainforests. Mountain tapirs (also known as Andean tapirs or woolly tapirs) are found in cloud forests of the Andes Mountains in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Their fur is woolly, longer, and thicker than that of other tapir species and helps them stay warm in the chilly conditions of their high-altitude habitat.
Like other tapir species, mountain tapirs are highly aquatic and often visit swift-flowing mountain streams to swim, wallow in mud, or walk along the river bottom foraging for water plants. They can dive underwater for several minutes at a time, using their trunk-like nose like a snorkel. Their elongated lip is able to grasp grass, leaves, and fruit. They have poor eyesight, so they sniff their way through the forest to find food or avoid danger. If threatened, they use chisel-like teeth to bite. Predators include mountain lions and spectacled bears. Fewer than 2,500 mountain tapirs are estimated to remain in the wild. Threats include habitat loss and fragmentation due to poppy cultivation for the drug trade, armed conflicts in Colombia, and cattle ranching.
Cloud forests and sub-tropical regions of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
These herbivores browse and graze on twigs, leaves, buds, and low-hanging fruit.
Mountain tapir bodies are tapered in front and rounded in the back. This adaptation makes them well suited for moving quickly through the thick underbrush. Short legs allow them to climb very steep vertical slopes. Splayed toes (four on the front feet and three on the back feet) provide stability and keep them from sinking in mud. As a result, engineers of the past century have constructed roads using the tapirs’ worn paths up the sides of mountains. Body length is up to six feet, height is about three feet, and weight ranges from 350 to 550 pounds. Lifespan may reach 30 years.