Interviewer 3: She’s late. Did she get lost in the jungle?
Interviewer 2: [sighs] There aren’t that many pot plants in here, Steve.
Interviewer 4: Obviously not, I can see her ears sticking out from behind that one.
Interviewers 1, 2, 3 and 5: [Gasp]
Baird’s tapir: [mumbling from behind pot plant] Hello.
Interviewer 1: Good morning, and welcome! Would you care to sit down?
Baird’s tapir: [shaking head behind pot plant]
Interviewer 1: Ah, I understand. [To other interviewers]: Mind if I solo this one?
[Rest of panel leaves]
There we go. Is that better?
[Baird’s tapir sneaks out from behind pot plant and sits down, nodding]
Great. So, why do you want the position of “forest keeper”?
Baird’s tapir: Well, I love plants, leaves and rainforests. And…I’m a very careful gardener.
Interviewer 1: [surprised and delighted] Oh really? Your CV says “biggest land mammal in Central and South America”, so it must be…challenging, trying not to disturb the plant life. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
Baird’s tapir: Well, um, I only eat plants in a zig-zag, so I don’t eat too much in the same place. I never eat all the leaves off them either. And everywhere I go, I help plant new forests. I’m not sure I should go into how, because it’s a bit rude, but I eat a lot of fruit and seeds, and…um…as I walk about…I…
Interviewer 1: You help fertilise and replenish the forest, I see. Wonderful! Now, as I’m sure you know, the jungle can be a very dangerous place. Our forest keeper needs to be able to defend themselves. Within reason, of course! Have you had any training in this regard?
Baird’s tapir: [despondent] I don’t do well with jaguars or pumas. Unless there’s somewhere safe to swim nearby.
Interviewer 1: [reassuring] Don’t worry, our keeper would be working around rivers, ponds or mangroves. Plenty of water. So…
Baird’s tapir: [hesitant] Well…I’m related to the rhino, if that counts? I mean, not for about 50 million years, and I’ve not really changed for 25 million of those…but…
Interviewer 1: [eagerly] So you can scare off enemies by charging?
Baird’s tapir: Um…not really. I’ve got a rhino’s eyesight, so I wouldn’t always be sure what I was charging at…
Interviewer 1: Okay. [awkward pause] Well, what about other types of self defence? For instance, you must have sharp teeth to bite into fruit and seeds…?
Baird’s tapir: [suddenly uncomfortable] Yes.
Interviewer 1: [encouraging] That might be helpful when the going gets tough. I hope you don’t mind my asking, but have you ever-
Baird’s tapir: [increasingly nervous] Yes. [suddenly thoughtful] But it was spur of the moment, and…well…I don’t think I should apologise for it.
Interviewer 1: [equal parts intrigued and concerned] Apologise for what?
Baird’s tapir: I once got a bit bitey. Well…more than a bit.
Interviewer 1: When? And with whom?
Baird’s tapir: I don’t really want to say.
Interviewer 1: Well…all right. I suppose all we want to know is if you can-
Baird’s tapir: Okay fine. I once bit a politician.
Interviewer 1: [shocked] What?! Who?
Baird’s tapir: An environment and energy minister. Back in Costa Rica. When we were living in Corcovada National Park. I think it was around 2006.
Interviewer 1: [still in shock] What happened? Did-
Baird’s tapir: No. He got a bit too close and I just…[sighs]. Luckily he was wearing a backpack. But I carried my calf for 13 months. She was so precious! I wasn’t going to let anyone scare her.
Interviewer 1: [surprised] Oh, you have a family?
Baird’s tapir: Yes! Here’s a picture of my baby.
That’s her before the age of 1. [blushes] She still had her spots then.
Interviewer 1: Oh she’s adorable. How many offspring do you have?
Baird’s tapir: Just our new daughter at the moment. I know some animals have lots of babies at once, but my mate and I are happy with just one at a time.
Interviewer 1: That sounds super. Family can be important when you spend a lot of time on the move, or off the beaten track. Do you have many friends as well?
Baird’s tapir: [meekly] I sometimes see other tapirs at the salt lick, or in the rivers. We give each other space, but we’re generally friendly.
Interviewer 1: So how are your communication skills? It must be tough staying in touch in dense jungle.
Baird’s tapir: Not too bad, I think. I mean…we leave our scents around. And everyone understands our “hello I’m here!” or “I’m glad you’re here” sounds. What else do you need to communicate?
Interviewer 1: Quite! To round off you, then. Tell me about your hobbies. How do you spend your free time?
Baird’s tapir: Um…I love bathing and sleeping. I dodge human hunters…that’s not a hobby, but I have to do that a lot. I’m a bit of a night owl as well.
Interviewer 1: Well that’s a good skill to have in the forest. [shuffles notes] So is there anything you’d like to ask me, or anything else you’d like to add…about why you’d be perfect for this job?
Baird’s tapir: Um…I don’t think…oh! Yes – about disturbing the forest. Well you won’t even know I’m there. I can disguise myself as a rock during the day, and during the night I can hide in shadows.
Interviewer 1: Oh that’s very good too. So-
Baird’s tapir: And…and if I’m in the water, and a crocodile comes along, don’t worry. I’ll bite it until it goes away.
Interviewer 1: [impressed and beaming] I see! Well, thank you very much. We’ll be in touch very soon.
Baird’s tapir: [hopeful] Um…have you had many other candidates like me?
Interviewer 1: [thoughtful] Now that I think about it, no. At least, not since we asked the local farmers for references. And since they started building that dam. Still, that makes you more special and unique, doesn’t it? Good luck!
Latin: Tapirus bairdii
What? A dark grey tapir. Think: pig and bear cub hybrid with a tap for a nose.
Where? Central and South America, from Mexico to Colombia, although thought extinct in El Salvador.
How big? About 1.2 metres / 3.9 feet at the shoulder, and up to 1.8 metres / 6 feet long
Endangered? Yes, due to the usual suspects of deforestation, land development and illegal hunting. There are fewer than 5,500 Baird’s tapirs left in the wild, and building dams and roads is separating them from each other.
Probable motto: I’m not just cute. I make the forest look healthy.
They look adorable. Do they need my help at all?
Yes, due to a declining habitat and hunting. In fact they could become Critically Endangered over the next few years if we’re not careful.
Fortunately, there are organisations like the Tapir Specialist Group, which has been campaigning for and helping tapir conservation for over 30 years!
The Rainforest Alliance also looks out for the tapir’s home, as well as the other flitters and critters of the jungle.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
“Baird’s tapir“. No date. The Houston Zoo.
“Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii)“. No date. Zoo Berlin.
“Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii)“. No date. Zoo New England.
Bates, Mary. 2015. “Super-rare albino tapir photographed in Brazil“. National Geographic.
Dewey, Tanya et al. No date. “Tapirus bairdii, Baird’s tapir“. Animal Diversity Web.
Gómez-Hoyos, Diego A. et al. 2018.”Interaction behavior and vocalization of the baird’s tapir
Tapirus bairdii from Talamanca, Costa Rica”. Neotropical Biology and Conservation 13(1):17-23.
Langley, Liz. 2013. “New tapir discovered – one of biggest mammals found this century“. National Geographic.
Naish, Darren. 2013. “Tapir attacks past, present, but hopefully not future“. Scientific American.
“Tapirus bairdii“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Tucsontwelve. 2019. “Zoo News – Baird’s tapir“. YouTube.
Featured image credit: “Baird’s Tapir in the Rain – Photographed in the Northern Cloud forests of Costa Rica” by Mark Kostich