Changing Planet

New Tapir Discovered—One of Biggest Mammals Found This Century

Talk about a big discovery: A new tapir has been found in the Amazon—the largest land mammal discovered in recent history, a new study says.

The 4-foot-long (1.2-meter-long) forest dweller, dubbed Tapirus kabomani, has a few other firsts to its credit: It’s the first new species of tapir to be named since 1865 and the first Perissodactyla, or “odd-toed” animal (a group that includes tapirs, rhinoceroses, and horses), to be described in over a century.

A camera-trap photo shows two of the newfound tapir species in the Amazon. Photograph by Samuel Nienow

Theodore Roosevelt collected the first T. kabomani specimen in 1912, describing it as “a bull, full-grown but very much smaller than the animal [Brazilian tapir] I had killed. The hunters said this was a distinct kind.”

Indeed, though the newfound animal has a body mass of about 243 pounds (110 kilograms), it’s still the smallest tapir: There are four other species, three in Central and South America and one in Asia—the latter can weigh up to 800 pounds (363 kilograms).

Even so, the specimen that Roosevelt sent back to the United States was long considered a variation of the Brazilian tapir, and was not identified by scientists as a new species until recently.

No News to Local Peoples

Of course, local people in its Amazonian habitat of Brazil and Colombia have long known about the species: T. kabomani comes from the word for tapir—arabo kabomani—in Paumari, a native language of southern Brazil.

Indigenous hunters contributed animals for study and helped identify the species from camera-trap photos, study leader author Mario Cozzuol wrote.

Watch a video of tapirs, also called “mountain cows.”

“Local peoples have long recognized our new species, suggesting a key role for traditional knowledge in understanding the biodiversity of the region,” Cozzuol said in the study, published recently in the Journal of Mammalogy.

The newbie differs from its relative the Brazilian tapir in several ways: It’s smaller and has darker hair, a lower mane, and a broader forehead. Females also have a gray-white area around their head and neck, and they are larger than males.

The species lives in the Amazon rain forest of Brazil and Colombia and may also live in Guyana. It’s unknown whether the newfound tapir is at risk of extinction, but an increasing human population in southwestern Amazonia is making it more urgent to find out, the study said.

The other four known species of tapir are listed as either vulnerable or endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Follow Liz Langley on Facebook and Twitter.

Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at
  • Mon

    Just imagine all the knowledge lost from the languages that went extinct.

  • rocky chaudhry

    so good to see them.

  • sFinka

    There is still much to discover. Never stop exploring!

  • Daniel

    It should read ‘108 kilograms’, not ‘180’.

  • Sujan Rao

    Amazing news.

  • wise

    How come a huge animal like a tipir was not seen in the forest?

  • Fam Mamdouh

    With the passage of days things will be discovered we did not think it exists …. This is wonderful

  • Gowrisha CV

    Wow! So Good News
    Look like in avatar movie animals..

  • Liz Langley

    Thanks @Daniel – corrected!

  • Alan

    Sweet sweet Tapir

  • Tammy Law :Ps200 student 8 years old

    @Alan -are you at ps 200 ?

  • Tammy Law :Ps200 student 8 years old

    It looks like a cow with glowing eyes .

  • Tammy Law :Ps200 student 8 years old

    Liz do want to be friends ?We could be explorers and scientists .I,m a scientist already .

  • Tammy Law :Ps200 student 8 years old

    Do you want to be my friend I mean ? You posted it

  • KBP

    In summary, Cozzuol et al.’s description of “T. kabomani” fails to provide compelling evidence for a new dwarf species of Amazonian tapir. Such as they are, their results suggest (but do not convincingly document) that there may be a population of phenotypically small tapirs in and around Rondônia, and that these may belong to a weakly supported and minimally divergent mtDNA haplogroup that also occurs (but perhaps with other phenotypic traits) in NE Amazonia. Before any major conservation efforts are made to protect “T. kabomani,” we need better documentation that this taxon is anything more than nominal.”
    Robert Voss (AMNH)

  • Liz Langley

    @Tammy Law :Ps200 student 8 years old

    Hello Tammy! Thank you for writing (my apologies for taking awhile to respond) and I’d be glad to be your science friend here on National Geographic! As a scientist you’ll probably find a lot of really cool stuff on NatGeo Kids, too – I’m not a scientist, I’m a writer, and I learn cool stuff from there all the time! 🙂 I hope you’ll check it out and keep exploring!

  • Craig C. Downer

    Thanks for this important article, Liz. The tapirs of the world are very imperiled and need our help. They are very sensitive species and need the preservation of large tracts of tropical forest and in the case of the Mountain, or Andean Tapir, paramo habitat in the Andes. They are very important seed dispersers and a true keystone species. Tapirus kabomani is most likely in critical danger of extinction and conservation efforts should be taken immediately to protect its known habitat and search out where else it may occur and protect these areas too. They people should start learning to live in harmony with these tapir-containing ecosystems, not as parasites thereon, destroyers thereof. This is essential for all our survival, tapirs and humans alike. We people must stop being so selfish and greedy and learn to live respectfully with the other species such as this marvelous tapir, on our shared ancient home: Planet Earth.

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