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MNS: Tapir extinct in Sabah first
Published on: Thursday, May 14, 2015

Kota Kinabalu: Tapir mammals once roamed the lush green forests of Borneo including what is Sabah today. But alas, it went extinct leaving only skeletal or fossil remains as proof of its existence in this part of Southeast Asia, with few left in Peninsular Malaysia. This was revealed by Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) activist SM Muthu when asked by Daily Express as to why he was wearing a tee shirt with the tapir motif instead of the rhinoceros which is on the verge of extinction in Sabah.

"A professor gave a talk in the past on this at this very room in this hotel about the tapir history in Sabah," Muthu said on the sidelines of the launch of a guidebook on the Begonia of Borneo at the Hyatt Regency, here, recently.

Tapir, with a life span of 25 to 30 years, looks like a pig with a trunk. They are actually related to horses and rhinoceroses. This eclectic lineage is an ancient one — and so is the tapir itself. Scientists believe that these animals have changed little over tens of millions of years.

Tapirs have a short prehensile (gripping) trunk, which is really an extended nose and upper lip. They use this trunk to grab branches and clean them of leaves or to help pluck tasty fruits.

Tapirs feed each morning and evening. During these hours they follow tunnel-like paths, worn through the heavy brush by many a tapir footstep to reach water holes and lush feeding grounds. As they roam and defecate they deposit the seeds they have consumed and promote future plant growth.

Though they appear densely built, tapirs are at home in the water and often submerge to cool off. They are excellent swimmers and can even dive to feed on aquatic plants. They also wallow in mud, perhaps to remove pesky ticks from their thick hides.

The world's biggest tapir is found in the Old World — Southeast Asia. The black-and-white Malayan tapir can grow to 800 pounds (363 kilogrammes).

It inhabits the forests and swamps and are endangered or threatened, largely due to hunting and habitat loss.

"It is more poignant to show that the fate of the tapir here is what will befall other iconic animals of Sabah, not only the rhinoceros, if we do not do something positive to prevent unsustainable practices," Muthu stressed.

The tapir, like the colours of the panda, is the logo of the Malaysian Nature Society formerly known as the Malayan Nature Society. The panda is the logo of the WWF which recently commended governments on Borneo Island for their actions in checking deforestation.



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