5 Jan 2016

The rare Malayan tapir, an endangered species, arrived to first time parents Margery (4) and Betong (3). Less than 2,500 Malayan tapirs are now thought to exist in the forests and rainforests of their native South East Asia, largely due to the destruction of their habitat.

Our keepers have named her Solo and say that although she’s still a little shaky on her tiny legs, she’s doing really well so far.

Baby tapirs are born with a dark brown coat covered in white spots and stripes to help provide camouflage against the forest floor. They lose those patterns in the first year of their life and develop their adult coats, with one half of their bodies black and the other half white.

Dr Nick Davis, assistant curator of mammals at Chester Zoo said:

Mum Margery performed a really smooth delivery and she’s doing excellently up to now, particularly with this being her first calf. We’ve witnessed the youngster nursing for up to 20 minutes at a time and, although she’s still a little shaky on her little legs, she is doing well so far.

It was a 13-month-long gestation for Margery and so we’ve waited a long time for this pitter patter of tiny, spotty feet!

This birth is very significant; a real achievement for our keepers given it’s a first for the zoo and important for the species as a whole. Once she is old enough, she will add valuable genetics to the European endangered species breeding programme which is working to ensure a viable safety net population of Malayan tapirs, ensuring they do not go extinct.

The Malayan tapir population in the wild is estimated to have declined by more than 50% in the last 36 years, driven primarily by the wide-scale conversion of their habitat to palm oil plantations and agricultural land. As a result, they are listed as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are also threatened by increased hunting for their fur, road-kills and trapping in snares left for other animals.

They are the largest of the world’s four tapir species and related to both the horse and the rhinoceros. They are an ‘odd-toed’ animal, having four toes on each front foot and three toes on each back foot.

Malayan tapir facts

  • The species is found in Malaysia, Sumatra (Indonesia), Thailand and Myanmar
  • They typically give birth to one calf after a 11-13 months gestation period
  • They have unusual, long flexible noses that they use to forage for food, and are known for their unusual courtship ritual which involves an assortment of wheezing and whistling sounds. They will then sniff each other, walking around in circles before mating
  • They also have poor eyesight, which makes them rely heavily on their excellent senses of smell and hearing
  • Young tapirs are born with spots and stripes all of their bodies to help provide camouflage against the forest floor of their natural habitat but lose those patterns in the first year of their life
  • The female calf was born on 11/07/2016
  • Keepers have now released video footage capturing the first moments of bonding between mum and daughter
  • Chester Zoo is part of a European breeding programme for the endangered species