NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – If you look at a Baird’s Tapir, you might think it’s a smaller version of a hippopotamus. However, its closest relatives are actually horses and rhinos.
“Tapir are an incredible species that is native to Central and South America,” explained Josh Wiseman, the Nashville Zoo Hoofstock Keeper. “Baird’s Tapir are one of the larger of the three species. Behind me here, we have our male Baird’s Tapir. His name is Don. These guys are an herbivore that is found throughout the rainforest, like I said, mostly in Central America. They’re pretty incredible creatures.”
The tapir nose gets the most attention.
“You’ll notice that one of the most defining features of a tapir is the very long snout, which is known as a proboscis,” Wiseman pointed out. “That is actually semi-prehensile, similar to an elephant’s trunk, except quite a bit smaller. But for them, it’s very important. It’s actually their strongest sense organ, so they have an excellent ability to smell.”
Because of that snout, the zookeepers have a cute nickname for them.
“We lovingly refer to them as ‘snorkel horses,'” exclaimed Wiseman. “Being semi-aquatic, they do spend a lot of time in the water, as well. There are definitely times in the summer when it’s really, really hot outside, we’ll come out here looking for the tapir, and we have no idea where they are. We come down here to the pool and we’ll find that they are completely submerged with just that little proboscis sticking up out of the water, enjoying a nice pool day on those warm days.”
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And you might say they have a nice smile!
“The other thing that’s really cure is they’ve got really impressive large canine teeth, Wiseman said. “And a lot of times when they are moving their long snout around, it almost looks like they are smiling. You’ll get to see those big teeth on display.”
There are two Baird’s Tapir at the Nashville Zoo: Don, and a female named Ju-Ju. But Don is the most sociable.
“Don, here, really enjoys being around people, so he’s great to have on an exhibit on our busy days because he likes to come up and see people,” Wiseman said.
Though they are native to a more tropical climate, they will still come out on sunny days in the wintertime as long as it’s above freezing.
News 2 has partnered with Nashville Zoo to bring you weekly segments of Zoopalooza. You can watch them on News 2 on Good Morning Nashville on Saturday and right here on WKRN.com.