Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Perissodactyla Tapiridae

Scientific Name: Tapirus indicus
Species Authority: Desmarest, 1819
Common Name(s):
English Asian Tapir, Indian Tapir, Malayan Tapir, Malay Tapir, Asiatic Tapir
French Tapir À Chabraque, Tapir À Dos Blanc, Tapir De L'Inde, Tapir Malais
Spanish Tapir De La India
Taxonomic Notes: Further research is needed to investigate whether this taxon contains more than one species.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Lynam, A., Traeholt, C., Martyr, D., Holden, J., Kawanishi, K., van Strien, N.J. & Novarino, W.
Reviewer(s): Shoemaker, A. & Medici, P. (Tapir Specialist Red List Authority)
This species is listed as Endangered due to an ongoing decline estimated from loss of available habitat, fragmentation of remaining habitat and increasingly hunting pressure. Population declines are estimated to be greater than 50% in the past 3 generation (36 years) driven primarily by large scale conversion of lowland tapir habitat to palm oil plantations and other human dominated land-use. The rate of reduction in population is inferred to be proportional to the reduction of the tropical rainforest area in southeast Asia over the same period - but may be more due to indirect threats. Remaining populations are isolated in existing protected areas and forest fragments, which are discontinuous and offer little ability for genetic exchange for these forest dependant species. This situation is expected to continue at a slightly diminishing rate in the future as non-protected areas, which are available as logging concessions, become less available. Because hunting seems to be increasing for tapir throughout the range - this could be cause for concern in the future as already reduced and isolated subpopulations would be at great risk for extirpation.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2003 Vulnerable (VU)
2002 Endangered (EN)
1996 Vulnerable (VU)
1994 Endangered (E)
1990 Endangered (E)
1988 Endangered (E)
1986 Endangered (E)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Tapirus indicus occurs in southern and central parts of Sumatra (Indonesia), and on the Asian mainland in Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand (along the western border and on the Peninsula south to the Malaysian border, and in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in the north), and Myanmar (south of latitude 18°N). Its populations are now highly fragmented within its former range. It was listed as occurring in southern Cambodia and possibly southern Viet Nam by Brooks et al. (1997). It was reported from Hongquan district, eastern Cochin China, Viet Nam, in 1944 (Harper, 1945), and there was an authentic-sounding record from Lao PDR in 1902 (Duckworth et al., 1999). It is presumed to be extinct in all three countries. However, further investigation of these historical records and of other indications from Lao, Viet Nam, Cambodia, northern Thailand and even southern China have found none that has any compelling evidence in its support. In some cases (e.g. the 1902 Lao PDR record; Cheminaud 1939), review of the statement in the context of the same author's wider work means that records sounding, on the face of it, strong need to be dismissed (Duckworth and Hedges 1998, Duckworth et al. 1999, in prep., J. W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2008, G. J. Galbreath pers. comm. 2008). In sum, there is no credible historical-era record from north of the Thai-Malay peninsula, although fossil remains do come from Viet Nam and China and indicate a much wider range under different climatic scenarios. The species' habitat distribution at the northern edge of its Thai range, where the climate develops a more marked dry season, and the tapir occupancy changes from altitudinally wide-ranging to being restricted to the most humid altitudes, strongly supports a climatic limitation (Steinmetz et al. in press), thereby casting further empirical doubt on the 20th century reports from Lao PDR, Viet Nam and Cambodia: these reports showed no association with where, climatically, they "ought" to have been (Annamite wet areas supporting other Sundaic species like Annamite striped rabbit Nesolagus timminsi and crested Argus Rheinardia ocellata, and in fact some came from the driest parts of Indochina, least plausible to support tapirs.
Countries occurrence:
Indonesia (Sumatera); Malaysia; Myanmar; Thailand
Upper elevation limit (metres): 2150
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Tapirus indicus occurs in two disjunct and isolated populations - one occurring on mainland Southeast Asia and the other occupying on the island of Sumatra. The species is more widespread and common on the mainland, and it is declining rapidly in Sumatra due to extensive loss of habitat, accidental and deliberate trapping for meat and removal of animals for zoos in Indonesia.

In Malaysia there are approximately 1,500-2,000 individuals (C. Traeholt pers. comm.). Further research efforts are needed to determine the total population size. In Thailand it is one of the least-affected large mammals by recent heavy levels of hunting that have caused severe cross-country declines in many large mammal species (Steinmetz et al. in press).

The situation in Thailand is similar, although with much less habitat available, and the Thai populations are is likely to be quite fragile since it is severely fragmented, and most subpopulations are unlikely to reach more than 50-100 individuals at the most. In many places there are only 10-15 individuals left with no chance of linking up to other protected areas and suitable habitats.
Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented: No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: T. indicus is restricted to tropical moist forest areas and occurs in both primary and secondary forest. The more seasonal climate in northern Myanmar, northern (= most of non-peninsula)_Thailand, Lao PDR, Viet Nam and Cambodia and the harsher dry season of the forest (even in evergreen areas, excepting the eastern flanks and adjacent Viet Namese lowlands of the Annamite chain) there is likely to be the main reason this species is not found there. The Malayan tapir is also predominantly found in the lowlands and the lower montane zone in some parts of the range, although it remains common to the highest peaks in its Thai range (Steinmetz et al. in press). Because the lowland forests are disappearing at a faster rate than the montane forests, an accelerated reduction in range and population is suspected (N. van Strien pers. comm.)
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Tapir meat is occasionally eaten and sold in local markets. It is not a popular food. Live animals are caught for local zoos. Sport hunting for tapir is illegal but does occur.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Tapirus indicus is threatened throughout most of its range. The primary threats to the species are large scale deforestation and increasingly, hunting. Tapir population have declined by well over 50% in Thailand and Malaysia, whereas it is suspected to be slightly less than 50% in Sumatra. The main reason for declines in the past is habitat conversion, with large tracts land being converted into palm oil plantations. However, increasingly as other large 'prey" species decline in the area hunters are beginning to look towards tapir as a food source.

Destruction of habitat is the main threat to the species: in central Sumatra much of the remaining habitat is outside of any protected area and uncontrolled illegal logging continues; in Thailand, almost all remaining intact forest now lies within protected areas, with mostly degraded lands outside; in contrast, Myanmar's protected areas make up 3.2% of land area (data provided by Myanmar Forest Department) and most tapir habitat lies outside these protected areas. In Malaysia forest loss is extremely severe, especially for expanding oil palm plantations.

Tapirus indicus are shy animals and appear to be highly sensitive to forest fragmentation. In Halabala Wildlife Sanctuary on the Thai-Malaysia border, Kaewsirisuk (2001) found that the species does not venture within a few hundred meters of forest-plantation edges. At Khao Sok National Park, tapirs are interior forest species that avoid forest edges (Lynam 1996). Kawanishi (2002), however, found in Taman Negara, the largest national park in Malaysia, that although the human traffic level was heavier in area closer to the park boundary, tapirs showed no edge effects. While forest loss continues in Thailand, forests in protected areas remain relatively stable in size and composition to other countries because of a ban on commercial logging that has been in place since 1989. For this reason, while tapirs may indeed be threatened in general by forest loss, populations in Thailand and Malaysia are probably more stable.

Large-scale habitat destruction has continued in Sumatra, historically the species' main stronghold, and most remaining habitat in central Sumatra is outside protected areas. In Sumatra, populations have declined by slightly less than 50% simply because the onslaught of habitat only started to be serious in the late 1980s. However, the rate of decline is continuing to escalate in this region. In fact Sumatra has only 60% of the forest cover that it had 15 years ago, so things are developing fast there and future declines of the species are likely well over 50% in the next 30 years. Given the uncontrolled illegal logging situation in Sumatra, they are becoming increasingly threatened island-wide. Localized hunting also occurs and is suspected elsewhere in its distribution range. Unless serious efforts to stem illegal logging and forest encroachment are made, all Sumatran forests outside conservation areas will be lost over the next few decades.

In Malaysia the current forestry trend seems to be stabilized at approx. 43% remaining forest cover (57% lost), of which at least half can be considered tapir habitat. In Thailand, 40% of the remaining forest is outside protected areas and only 5% of Myanmar's land area is protected forest (Lynam pers. comm.).

The species has uncertain status and future in Myanmar due to security issues and forest clearance for rubber and oil palm plantations. However, two new protected areas have been designated in the Tenasserims: Taninthayi National Park and Lenya River Wildlife Sanctuary. If these areas can be protected, they will preserve valuable tapir habitat in the future.

In the past, several Indonesian zoos, especially Pekanbaru, traded in live tapirs for sale to other Indonesian zoos or private collections, or for sale as meat in local markets. Fifty tapirs are reported passing through the Pekanbaru Zoo since 1993. Some of these animals are suspected of having originated from protected areas. Elsewhere, extraction may not be very high but it is uncertain how many individuals are actually hunted every year. Hunting is specifically known to be comparatively (by comparison with other mammals of similar size) very low in Thailand and at least parts of Sumatra (Holden et al. 2003, Stienmetz et al. in press)

There are indications that live tapirs have been traded through several Indonesian zoos, with some destined for private collections or for sale as meat in local markets to the non-Muslim community. Some of these animals are suspected to have originated from protected areas.

Hunting has been a minor threat to Tapirus indicus in the past, but is has been increasingly a cause of concern as more and more hunting of the species is discovered. Some localized hunting has been reported in Sumatra, however, and historically tapirs are not hunted for subsistence or commercial trade in Thailand or Myanmar, since their flesh is considered distasteful. Some hill tribes believe that killing a tapir brings bad luck, so they are not hunted.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The species is legally protected in all range states and the habitat of large parts of the range is protected, including several National Parks in Thailand, Myanmar, Peninsula Malaysia and Sumatra. The impact of habitat reduction/destruction on the tapir is not fully understood and needs further investigation. It is listed on CITES Appendix I.

Thailand supports one of the most comprehensive systems of protected areas in Southeast Asia. Over 200 National Parks, Marine National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Non-hunting areas cover 17% of land area (Prayurasiddhi et al. 1999). Since most existing Tapirus indicus habitat is already protected, the future for conservation of the species in Thailand is quite positive. In contrast, Myanmar's protected areas make up 5% of land area (Lynam 2003) and most tapir habitat lies outside these protected areas. In Myanmar, Malayan tapirs are entirely restricted to rainforests in the Tenasserim Ranges along the Thai-Myanmar border (Yin, 1993). The tenure of these lands on the Myanmar side of the border is disputed and due to civil unrest, has been inaccessible for wildlife survey until now. A team of Myanmar Forest Department staff working the Tenasserim border during 2001 detected tapirs from camera-traps, track and scat at two sites: the Minmoletka Taung area and the Hitaung Pru Reserve Forest (Lynam 2003).

In Thailand, Tapirus indicus is recorded from forest areas in the west and south of the country (Lekagul and McNeely 1988), including transboundary forest areas in border areas, and large isolated forest remnants. The transboundary forests represent the most extensive, contiguous habitats for large mammals left in the country (Prayurasiddhi et al. 1999). They include the Western Forest Complex (Thai-Myanmar border), which includes 12 protected areas, and covers over 18,730 sq km including both dry and wet forests, and the Kaeng Krachan/Chumpol complex which covers 4,373 sq km, mostly wet evergreen forest on the Thai-Myanmar border. The Balahala Forest is an expanse of 1,850 sq km of tropical rainforest on the Thai-Malaysia border. All areas are contiguous with larger forest areas on opposite sides of the country border. Recent survey efforts (Lynam 1999; Lynam 2000; WCS 2001; Kaewsirisuk 2001; A. Pattanavibool pers. comm.) suggest that tapirs are present though uncommon in each of these transboundary forest areas.

Citation: Lynam, A., Traeholt, C., Martyr, D., Holden, J., Kawanishi, K., van Strien, N.J. & Novarino, W. 2008. Tapirus indicus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T21472A9285043. . Downloaded on 10 October 2015.
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