Tapirus indicus Desmarest 1819
by Ms. Ajla Rafidah Baharom
Tapirus indicus Desmarest 1819
by Ms. Ajla Rafidah Baharom

Tapirus indicus, more commonly known as Malayan Tapir in English and cipan or tenuk in Malay, is an iconic species to Malaysia, and is the largest among the tapir species. The Malayan Tapir is the only tapir found in Asia. Tapirs, in general, have a fleshy, prehensile nose that is flexible which gives them the ability to grab leaves and feed themselves. They also have an excellent sense of smell. They have rounded ears with white tips and a stubby tail. Compared to other species of the genus Tapirus, the Malayan Tapir is easily recognisable from its physical appearance of a distinctive two-tone black and white body, with the white part extending from its shoulders to its rear end. Young tapirs are covered in brown hair with patterns of white stripes and spots which serve as an excellent camouflage amongst leaf shadows.

Having poor eyesight, the Malayan Tapir relies heavily on its excellent sense of smell and hearing when moving along forest trails while using their extended nose for plucking shoots and leaves, and sniffing on scents for communication. Studies on the feeding behaviour of the Malayan Tapir show that it is relatively choosy and browses on selective plants. Although it is very particular in what it consumes, it seems to eat a variety of plant species in moderate quantities in a single meal instead of eating a large amount of only one species or individual plant. A majority of its food plants are saplings and shrubs, but it is also known to eat woody lianas, vines and herbaceous plants (Simpson et al., 2013)

The Malayan Tapir’s current population is distributed from Southern Thailand and Myanmar, through Peninsular Malaysia to southern and central parts of Sumatra, Indonesia. Presently, it is listed as an Endangered Species by the IUCN Red List as a result of declining population due to ongoing habitat loss and habitat fragmentation caused by agricultural land conversion and human-dominated land-use, increasing hunting pressure, road-kills and bi-catches by snare hunters (Traeholt et al., 2016). The Malayan Tapir is also listed on CITES Appendix I and is totally protected under Malaysia’s Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.


  1. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved November 30, 2016, from
  2. Simpson, B.K., Nor, S.M. & Magintan, D. (2013). Food selection of the Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus) under semi-wild conditions. 1571: pp. 317-324
  3. Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (2010)
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