Tapir (tapirus, Cuv.), a genus of ungulate mammals, characterized by a nose prolonged into a short, movable proboscis; skin very thick and covered with close short hair, the neck furnished with a kind of stiff mane; tail very short; ears small, erect, and pig-like; four toes on the fore and three on the hind feet, separate and ending in nail-like hoofs; skull pyramidal as in the hog, with the nasal bones much arched for the muscles of the proboscis; teeth, G incisors and 2 small canines in each jaw, and molars 14 above and 12 below. The tapirs look like hogs, but the legs are longer; they inhabit the moist tropical forests of South America and of the Malayan peninsula and archipelago, usually sleeping by day in retired places, and feeding at night on fruits, grasses, and other vegetable substances, though they are as omnivorous as the hog; like their congeners, they are fond of rolling in the mud and water, and are excellent swimmers; they are gentle and easily tamed; when pursued they take to the water if possible, where they easily defend themselves with the teeth; on land they do not go by open paths, but break through the thick undergrowth of the woods by their powerful and wedge-like head, in this way escaping the larger carnivora; they have an acute sense of hearing and of sight, and are strong and tenacious of life; their flesh is eaten both in South America and Asia. The best known species is the American tapir (T. Americanus, Cuv.), about 6 ft. long and 3½ ft. high, of a uniform brown color, tinged with gray on the head and chest.
It is found over almost the whole extent of South America east of the Andes, and its herds sometimes do great mischief by trampling down cultivated fields; it has only one young at a birth, in November. The Asiatic tapir (T. Malay anus, Horsf.) is 7 or 8 ft. long, with the hind parts of the body white, and the anterior and the legs black; the trunk is 7 or 8 in. long, the eyes very small, and the rounded ears bordered with white; though. the largest, it is the gentlest of the genus. Fossil species are found in the tertiary formations of central Europe.
American Tapir (Tapirus Americanus).