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Star Tribune, December 28, 2010

Endangered tapir is on Minnesota mating mission
By Paul Walsh

Tapir (TAY-purr): n. any of several large, hoofed, hoglike mammals of tropical America and the Malayan peninsula.

The latest: A young Malayan tapir, considered one of Southeast Asia's most endangered species, has arrived on long-term loan to the Minnesota Zoo and is now on exhibit.

The plan: Jon-hi (pronounced "john-hee") came from the Omaha Zoo, and the plan is to breed him with 7-year-old Bertie once he is old enough.

"He should be reproductive very soon," said Minnesota Zoo spokeswoman Kelly Lessard. "We will introduce them once he is a bit more size-compatible with her."

The schedule: Mating occurs year-round and is characterized by a heated and noisy courtship ritual. But to keep things quiet in the meantime, Jon-hi will be on exhibit in the mornings; Bertie in the afternoons.

The details: Malayan tapirs live in grassy areas near lakes and rivers in the dense rainforests of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Adults have a dramatic color scheme: a black front half of their torso, white sides and black hind legs.

The big picture: Tapir populations are declining due to habitat loss from agricultural deforestation, flooding caused by dam building for hydroelectric projects and illegal trade. There are fewer than 50 Malayan tapirs in U.S. zoos.

The close-up: Malayan tapirs look more like anteaters or pigs, but they are closely related to horses and rhinoceroses. Their short, fleshy snouts help them sniff their way through the forest and pull vegetation such as leaves and twigs to their mouths. They are excellent swimmers.

© 2010 Star Tribune.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton