Ask Us: How did tapirs evolve?

Tapirs have a short prehensile trunk, which allows them to grab branches and consume the leaves or fruit. Image: Shutterstock.

Tapirs have evolved over 50 millions years.

Tapirs are living fossils- they evolved over 50 million years ago and haven’t changed much since that time. The black-and-white Malay Tapir can be found in the forests and swamps of Malaysia and Sumatra, while New World Tapirs live in the grasslands and forests of Central and South America. The smallest tapir, the Woolly Tapir, lives high in the Andes and is named for its thick coat.

Despite their prehensile lip and body shape, they are not members of the same family as elephants and hippos. Instead, they were actually the first members of the family Equidae to evolve. Other members of the family include rhinos, which are believed to have evolved from tapirs around 40 million years ago, horses and zebras.

However, there hasn’t been much research done on this topic and scientists still only have a basic understanding of the tapir’s evolution.

Thanks to Taronga Zoo for their help in answering this question sent by Santino Zammit via Facebook.

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