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Tapirs (extant/living species; Tapirus spp.) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development


  • Male produces wheezing/huffing sounds or shrill whistling; may spray urine
  • Male and female stand nose to tail; sniffing genitals and begin circling movement


  • Non-seasonal
  • Sexual maturity: c. 2 years; male and female
  • Estrus cycle: c. 30 days; varies with species in the wild
  • Copulating tapirs bite one another on flanks/ears (also common in horses and zebras)
  • Often mate in water
  • After mating female may become aggressive – chasing male

Gestation and Birth

  • 13 months (390-400 days)
  • Female becomes restless, selects safe birthing area
  • Stands up during birth – single infant is born head first
    • Twins are extremely rare
  • Birth interval: 18 months in zoos
    • May be significantly shorter in wild
  • 14 months in wild with good food availability (Eisenberg et al. 1990)

Life Stages


  • Eyes open at birth
  • Stands 1-2 hours after birth
  • 14-25 lbs birth (6-11 kg) (Todd and Matola 2001)
  • Mother licks clean and encourages newborn to stand

Infant (< 1 year old)

  • Shelters alone while mother forages
  • Follows mother c. 1 week
  • Striped coat begins to fade at 5 months
  • Remains with mother 10-11 months


  • Adult coat by 10-11 months


  • 2-3 years

Typical Life Expectancy

Managed care

  • Baird's tapir
    • No AZA estimates
  • Malayan tapir
    • Median life expectancy
      • 18.2 years (male, female data combined) (AZA 2024)

Malayan Tapir Mother and Young

Malayan tapir mother and young

In order to hide during their early months of life, young tapirs look very different from their parents.

Tapirs have a long reproductive cycle, having only one young every 14-18 months.

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

Page Citations

Eisenberg et al. (1990)
Janssen et al. (1999)
Todd and Matola (2001)

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