The Asian, or Malayan tapir is the largest of the five living species of tapir.
It is also the only surviving old world species. It is characterised by its long, fleshy, prehensile nose and distinctive black and white colouration which apparently breaks up the outline of the body in the gloom of the forests in which it lives.
Tapirs are perissodactyls (odd-toed ungulates), a group of herbivores that also includes rhinos and horses – it was a previously a very diverse and numerous group. The origins of Tapiridae can be traced back at least fifty million years, and they have changed little in body plan for 35 million years.
Formerly ranging across Southeast Asia, the tapir today exists as a series of isolated populations, the largest of which are in Malaysia. Habitat destruction, especially through deforestation for agricultural purposes, or flooding caused by the damming of rivers for hydroelectric purposes, is largely responsible for historical decline of this species and continues to be the main threat today.
Hunting, a relatively minor threat in the past, is also becoming more of a concern; as other preferred prey species are becoming more depleted, hunters are increasingly looking towards tapirs as a food source.