SOUTH AMERICAN TAPIR
What they lack in the glamour stakes, tapirs more than compensate for with some curious anatomy and behaviour. Little changed over 35 million years, these ‘living fossils’ have splayed toes to spread their 250kg bulks and prevent them from sinking into soft, muddy ground – a useful feature for a mammal that prefers dense riverine forest. The tough, bristly mane is thought to give jaguars something to sink their teeth into without causing real harm, but tapirs actually have a far more inventive way of escaping predators. That constantly questing, ever-twitching extensible snout is not only the perfect appendage for sniffing out food and smelling danger, but it also makes an impromptu snorkel. When attacked by a puma or jaguar, a tapir thinks nothing of diving into the nearest river and swimming out of harm’s way with just the tip of its trunk protruding above the surface.
Spotting tip: Tapirs rarely venture far from water, so always scour riverbanks while on boat trips. You can improve your chances of a sighting, however, by spending the night at a hide overlooking a clay lick such as the one at Manu Wildlife Centre.