On January 31st this year, a representative of another endangered species – Lowland tapir - was born at Wrocław zoo. This is a very important event because it is an umbrella species in the natural environment. This means that the functioning of the entire ecosystem (of its habitat) depends on it. Meanwhile, the population of these animals is decreasing at a drastic pace.
The baby girl was given a name Sara; she weighed 6 kg and measured 45cm at birth. Her coat is brown with white stripes for camouflage, typical for baby tapirs of all species. Sara's parents are Sonia, a 23 year-old female born in Wrocław, and Tapinos, a 22 year-old male from the Gdansk Zoo, who came to Wrocław in 2001.
Tapirs lead a solitary life, however, those from the Wrocław zoo created a true family that takes care of its youngest member together. Sara, like every toddler, focuses mainly on eating and sleeping, but finds time for prancing. These antics quite often end with the loss of coordination, slipping and falling. When this happens, her mother is always close by, making sure her daughter is all right. When a stranger appears nearby, Sonia shields her daughter with her own body. Interestingly, Sara's grandmother Sabrina is also happy to be with her granddaughter. More so, Sara's father is also present, and even takes it upon himself to groom his daughter.
Sara will stay in Wroclaw for at least two years, later she will probably go to another zoo. Until then, she will live at the Elephant House, where visitors have a chance to see her today.
The zoological garden in Wrocław has a long and rich history of breeding tapirs. First tapirs arrived here already in 1893 and 4 years later the first tapir birth in captivity was recorded in Wrocław. It was a Malay tapir.
The Lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) is one of four species of tapirs, living in vast areas of South America, from Venezuela through Brazil to Argentina. They are mainly nocturnal. They are herbivorous and feed on coastal plants and wild rice among others. In search of food, they often wade through dense jungle, so nature has armed them with thick skin. By nature they startle easily, so they behave quietly and cautiously. They make up for poor eyesight with great sense of smell and hearing. Although they are the largest mammals of South America, they have natural enemies - pumas and jaguars, as well as caimans and anacondas, from which they hide in the water.
Because Lowland tapir is an umbrella species, many countries which it inhabits have taken steps to protect it. The program of assessing the state of protection and monitoring of the population in the northwest of the country, is underway in Argentina. There are several projects in Brazil, including the Initiative for the protection of Lowland tapirs in the states of São Paulo, Espírito Sant and Cerrado. Additionaly their biology, genetics and behavior are being researched.
In Colombia there is a project to monitor tapir populations through photo traps in La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (La Guajira), Macizo Colombiano (Huila), Parque Amacayacu (Amazonas) and Serranía del Darien (Chocó). In Ecuador there is a national Lowland tapir protection project, just like in French Guiana.
Scientists currently classify four species of tapirs - three of them inhabit South America, where they are the largest terrestrial mammals. One species lives in Asia. All have the status of endangered or critically endangered. They are a living fossil, they come from the Eocene Epoch (paleogene period), they survived waves of extinction of other animals.
Tapirs belong to the order of odd-toed ungulates and inhabit tropical forests, rivers banks and swamps, as they gladly swim and even dive.
All tapir species have a similar constitution - stocky, massive bodies, fore feet with four toes and hind with three. Such adaptation helps to walk on soft ground. However, their most distinctive feature, and the most amazing one at the same time, is the small trunk - the nose and the upper lip combined into a flexible snout. It can move in all directions and serves as a tool to grab food, pluck leaves out of trees that is.
Tapirs reproduce rather slowly compared to other mammals. Their pregnancy lasts from 13 to 14 months, after which usually one young is born. It reaches sexual maturity at the age of 3 years. The average life expectancy of tapirs is 40 years.
Unfortunately, they become rare in their natural environment, mainly due to the destruction of habitats and poaching, as well as the development of roads.
Surprisingly, they are closely related to rhinos.