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Why are tapirs called the 'walking watermelon'?

Why are tapirs called the 'walking watermelon'?
A Malayan Tapir at Zoo Negara roaming about. - Astro AWANI/Sathesh Raj
KUALA LUMPUR: A pair of Malayan Tapir departed from Malaysia to Japan on Friday, underscoring the bilateral ties between both nations in the domain of wildlife conservation.

The loan of the male tapir 'IM' and female tapir 'Bertam' turned heads as public curiosity deepens on the one-of-a-kind herbivorous mammal that roams widely in the jungles of Asia.

Here are five intriguing facts about tapirs:

1. Flexible nose
Tapir uses the feature of its unique fleshy prehensile nose to collect leaves when searching for food. The flexibility of its nose also enables it to function as a snorkel while swimming.

Zoo Negara assistant supervisor Hamdan Hamid is seen feeding a mother-daughter pair of Malayan Tapir. - Astro AWANI/Sathesh Raj
2. Tapirs are great 'gardeners'

These mammals are excellent 'gardeners' as they disperse seeds in various locations in the forests or jungles they're in.

The seeds they eat are then dispersed in their excrement which helps forest regeneration.

A Brazilian conservation biologist, Patricia Medici had reportedly said many other animals play this role, but because tapirs eat enormous amounts of fruits, they distribute an equally enormous quantity of seeds. Forest structure and diversity would be very different without the presence of tapirs.

3. Tapirs are pregnant for more than a year

Being an endangered species, the mere existence and survival of tapirs are truly extraordinary. This is because a tapir has a gestation period of 13 to 14 months, much longer if compared to other mammals. Tapirs also only give birth to a single offspring in every pregnancy.

4. Baby tapirs are referred to as 'walking watermelons'

The yellow or white stripes and spots on the body of a baby tapir resembles a watermelon. This resemblance earns it the name "walking watermelon" as they appear to be like a watermelon walking from a distance.

These stripes and spots also act as a survival mechanism, enabling baby tapirs to camouflage against predators in the wild. However, at about three months, the stripes and spots begin to fade and will be completely invisible after six months.

Covered in stripes and spots, baby tapirs are able to camouflage themselves against predators in the wild. Source: LIana John
Covered in stripes and spots, baby tapirs are able to camouflage themselves against predators in the wild. Source: LIana John

5. Tapirs are hunted for their meat

It is a commonly preconceived notion that tapirs are on the verge of extinction predominantly because of their loss of habitat. In truth, poaching and illegal hunting for tapir meat also dwindles the number of the tapir population.