World Tapir Day

World Tapir Day occurs on April 27 each year, to recognize and promote the conservation of tapirs. If you’re unfamiliar with tapirs, they are perissodactyls (the mammal order that includes rhinos and horses) that currently live in South America (3 or 4 species) and Southeast Asia (1 species). Below is the Malayan tapir, Tapirus indicus, at the Henry Doorly Zoo:

And here’s a South American species, Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii) from the Jacksonville Zoo:

Like their relatives the horses and the rhinos, much of tapirs’ evolutionary history occurred in North America, and they only became extinct on this continent near the end of the Pleistocene. Water-loving tapirs apparently were not especially common in Southern California, at least not during the Pleistocene. None have been identified from the Diamond Valley Lake collections, and only a handful of tapir bones have been reported from Rancho la Brea. In the Western Science Center collections we only have a single specimen of a tapir (as far as we know), the four teeth shown at the top of the page (and a few associated tiny bone fragments) from near Temecula.

All four teeth appear to be from the lower jaws, two from the left and two from the right. In the image I’ve oriented them they way I think they were located in the jaws, with the front of the jaw to the right. Without a modern tapir jaw on hand for comparison my identification is tentative, and I could be off by one tooth position, but I think the two left teeth (at the top) are the second and third molars (m2 and m3) while the right teeth (at the bottom) are the first and second molars (m1 and m2).

It’s not a lot, but these teeth demonstrate that tapirs were present in Riverside County during the Pleistocene. Happy World Tapir Day!

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