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

Tapirs (extant/living species; Tapirus spp.) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat


  • Distribution: wide distribution (Asia and South America) indicates they originated from an ancient lineage (Eocene)
  • Malayan tapir:
    • Extant: Malaya and Sumatra; extremely fragmented
    • Formerly: Burma and parts of Thailand
  • Baird's tapir:
    • Extant: Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, southern Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Republic of Panama, southern Mexico (Oaxaca)
      • Distribution is sparse and extremely fragmented
      • Extremely rare in other places, such as Colombia
    • Formerly: El Salvador, and apparently Ecuador
  • Lowland tapir: Broadest range of the 5 species
    • Extant: most South American rain forests
  • Mountain tapir: High elevation
    • Extant: Andean regions of Columbia, Ecuador and Peru
  • T. kabomani: Recently described (Cozzuol et al. 2013)
    • Amazonas, Rondonia and Mato Grosso states in Brazil; parts of Amazonas Department in Colombia
    • Possibly eastern Amazon along the Guiana Shield


  • Wet, tropical climate preferred
  • Marsh and swamp areas
  • Tropical rainforests or tropical montane forests
  • Mangroves
  • Lowland (Brazilian) tapir may occupy savannah or tropical dry deciduous forests near permanent water source
  • T. kabomani in mixed habitat of forest and open savanna, most often (Cozzuol et al. 2013)

Tapir Distribution

tapir distribution map

Tapirs live in Central America, South America, and southeast Asia.

Red box: Malay tapir
Green box: Baird's tapir
Orange box: Andean/Mountain tapir
Black box: Lowland tapir

Note: The oldest fossil tapirs were unearthed in North America, with later representatives in Asia and South America. There are no living North American species; only one survives in Asia.

Adapted from according to IUCN fact sheets. Click on links, above, for IUCN detailed distribution.

Page Citations

Cozzuol et al. (2013)
Eisenberg (1997)
IUCN (2009)

SDZWA Library Links