The American Tapir by the London Reading Book

There are but three known species of the Tapir, two of which—the Peccary and the Tapir—are natives of South America, the other of Sumatra and Malacca. Its anatomy is much like that of the rhinoceros, while in general form the tapir reminds us of the hog. It is a massive and powerful animal, and its fondness for the water is almost as strong as that displayed by the hippopotamus. It swims and dives admirably, and will remain submerged for many minutes, rising to the surface for breath, and then again plunging in. When hunted or wounded, it always, if possible, makes for the water; and in its nightly wanderings will traverse rivers and lakes in search of food, or for pleasure. The female is very attentive to her young one, leading it about on the land, and accustoming it at an early period to enter the water, where it plunges and plays before its parent, who seems to act as its instructress, the male taking no share in the work.

The tapir is very common in the warm regions of South America, where it inhabits the forests, leading a solitary life, and seldom stirring from its retreat during the day, which it passes in a state of tranquil slumber. During the night, its season of activity, it wanders forth in search of food, which consists of water-melons, gourds, young shoots of brushwood, &c.; but, like the hog, it is not very particular in its diet. Its senses of smell and hearing are extremely acute, and serve to give timely notice of the approach of enemies. Defended by its tough thick hide, it is capable of forcing its way through the thick underwood in any direction it pleases: when thus driving onwards, it carries its head low, and, as it were, ploughs its course.

The most formidable enemy of this animal, if we except man, is the jaguar; and it is asserted that when that tiger of the American forest throws itself upon the tapir, the latter rushes through the most dense and tangled underwood, bruising its enemy, and generally succeeds in dislodging him.

The snout of the tapir greatly reminds one of the trunk of the elephant; for although it is not so long, it is very flexible, and the animal makes excellent use of it as a crook to draw down twigs to the mouth, or grasp fruit or bunches of herbage: it has nostrils at the extremity, but there is no finger-like appendage.

In its disposition the tapir is peaceful and quiet, and, unless hard pressed, never attempts to attack either man or beast; when, however, the hunter's dogs surround it, it defends itself very vigorously with its teeth, inflicting terrible wounds, and uttering a cry like a shrill kind of whistle, which is in strange contrast with the massive bulk of the animal.

American Tapir.

The Indian tapir greatly resembles its American relative; it feeds on vegetables, and is very partial to the sugar-cane. It is larger than the American, and the snout is longer and more like the trunk of the elephant. The most striking difference, however, between the eastern and western animal is in colour. Instead of being the uniform dusky-bay tint of the American, the Indian is strangely particoloured. The head, neck, fore-limbs, and fore-quarters are quite black; the body then becomes suddenly white or greyish-white, and so continues to about half-way over the hind-quarters, when the black again commences abruptly, spreading over the legs. The animal, in fact, looks just as if it were covered round the body with a white horse-cloth.

Though the flesh of both the Indian and American tapir is dry and disagreeable as an article of food, still the animal might be domesticated with advantage, and employed as a beast of burthen, its docility and great strength being strong recommendations.