Skip to Main Content
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

Extinct California Tapir (Tapirus californicus) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat

California Tapir (Tapirus californicus)

How Do We Know This?

Paleontologists use knowledge of the earth's rocks, global plate tectonic movements, ancient ecosystems, and the chemical process of fossilization to make sense of fossil distribution patterns and ancient habitats.


  • Coastal southern California (Jefferson 1989)
  • A larger tapir, Tapirus merriami, lived at the same time, in more inland habitats (Scott 206)
  • Tapirs in Pleistocene times lived south of the limit of continental glaciation (Colbert & Schoch 1998)


  • Forests, woodlands, perhaps grassland, especially near rivers and lakes
  • Modern tapirs live up to 4,500 m (14,764 ft) in the Andes and perhaps fossil species were equally adaptable (McDonald 2006)
  • Not yet found in mountains of western U.S.

Page Citations

Jefferson (1989)
Colbert & Schoch (1998)

SDZWA Library Links