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Extinct California Tapir (Tapirus californicus) Fact Sheet: Summary

California Tapir (Tapirus californicus)

Archived Content

Disclaimer: Fact sheets on prehistoric (extinct) species contain archived content and are no longer being updated. At the time of publication, these pages summarized the best available science. However, some content may become outdated as scientists report new discoveries.

Extinct California Tapir (Tapirus californicus) Fact Sheet

Extinct California Tapir 

Extinct California tapir, Tapirus californicus

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Perissodactyla - horses, rhinos, tapirs

Family: Tapiridae - tapirs

Genus: Tapirus                              

Species: Tapirus californicus (Merriam, 1913) - California tapir (extinct)

Body Weight
Estimated somewhat less than 225 kg (496 lb)

Body Length
Estimated 140 cm (4.6 ft); no known complete fossil skeletal remains


Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Coastal southern California

Forests, woodlands, perhaps grassland, especially near rivers and lakes

Species went extinct by 13,000 years ago

Social Behavior
Believed to have been solitary

Interspecies Interactions
Similar to modern tapirs, may have played a role in dispersing seeds and fertilizing fruiting trees.

Assumed to be like living tapirs, eating leaves, aquatic plants, fruits, and seeds

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Feature Facts

  • Tapir-like mammals were once diverse with a world-wide in distribution; today, only four living (extant) species live in tropical latitudes in Central and South America
  • Extant tapirs thought to be very similar to extinct tapir species
  • Short, muscular proboscis (nose)
  • California tapirs may have enjoyed wallowing in the mud, like modern tapirs

About This Fact Sheet

© 2009 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance


How to cite: Extinct California Tapir (Tapirus californicus) Fact Sheet. c2009. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. /extinctcaliforniatapir
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Sep 10)


Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to

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