Woodland Park Zoo's endangered Malayan tapir gives birth

SEATTLE - A watermelon on four legs was born just before the Fourth of July at Woodland Park. The 26-pound, female, Malayan tapir calf marks the fourth birth for her 12-year-old parents. The unnamed calf will remain off exhibit, in the tapir barn, for the time being, while staff closely monitor her and her mother. Thanks to a "tapir cam," zoo-goers may view the baby tapir real time on a closed-circuit monitor at the tapir shelter in the Trail of Vines exhibit. Images will soon be available on the zoo's Web site www.zoo.org.

"The birth of this tapir is significant because they are endangered and her genetic line is underrepresented in the North American population," said zoo general curator Dr. Nancy Hawkes. She noted that there weren't any other Malayan tapir births in North American zoos in the last year. Woodland Park's birth brings the total number of Malayan tapirs to 54 in North America; an estimated 900 to 3,000 remain in the wild.

Tapir gestation is approximately 13 months and an average birth weight is 22 pounds. A newborn tapir has a reddish-brown coat dappled with white and cream-colored spots and stripes. The unique coat pattern helps provide excellent camouflage in bamboo or reed jungles. The striped pattern begins fading after a few months and adult coloration appears by 5-8 months old.

"A neonatal exam this morning indicated the calf is robust and healthy," according to Dr. John Ochsenreiter, zoo associate veterinarian. "All vital stats appear to be normal." "We're pleased with her nursing bouts so far, a very good sign that she and mother are bonding as they should be," explained Ochsenreiter. The zoo will keep the tapir calf under close observation over the first few months.

Tapirs are among the most primitive large mammals in the world, changing little in appearance in the past 15 million years. At first glance this prehistoric-looking animal looks like a massive pig with a long snout.

However, its closest relatives are the horse and rhinoceros. The average weight for adult Malayan tapirs is 750 pounds, although they can weigh up to 900 pounds. The front half of an adult's body and its hind legs are black and the rear half above the legs is white.

The Malayan tapir is the only Asian species among the four tapir species. Endangered, it is native to Sumatra, the Malay peninsula, Myanmar, southern Thailand and possibly Laos. Woodland Park Zoo staff currently works with a team of field scientists in Brazil to track wild lowland tapirs and monitor how they move through their increasingly fragmented habitat. This project is one of more than three dozen conservation projects that Woodland Park Zoo supports all over the globe.

The Tapir Taxon Advisory Group is among 35 conservation breeding programs that Woodland Park Zoo participates in. Others include the western lowland gorilla, Aruba Island rattlesnake, red-crowned crane and Sumatran tiger. Under the auspices of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), the cooperative breeding programs work to ensure genetic diversity and demographic stability in North American zoos and aquariums.

Woodland Park Zoo summer hours are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For general zoo information, log on to the zoo's Web site or call (206) 684-4800.

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