One of the rarest and most mysterious of Andean animals...
The mountain tapir, also known as the woolly tapir, looks like other tapirs, but has very thick, woolly fur to protect it from the damp cold of the special environment where it lives. Its habitat is not the plains but the lofty cordilleras of the Andes. The mountain tapir lives in the equatorial Andes and in Columbia, but its chosen environment is so limited that it only occurs in certain easterly ranges of the Andes. In fact, its geographical distribution is more restricted than that of any other South American mammal. Mountaineers have found traces of this tapir as high as 15,500 feet - in the snows of the Sangay Volcano on the Equator.
The wooly mountain tapirs live in areas of bamboo forest for preference, where the vegetation grows thick like a jungle. They can make their way about in this impenetrable bamboo sanctuary by forging tunnels through it to form a maze of tracks which affords them complete security. Woolly tapirs are vegetarians and live on bamboo shoots (hey, I've had those in stir-fry; ha!) and other juicy plant stems. They are essentially nocturnal animals and rest during the day in bamboo thickets. They live in pairs or small groups.
Despite their bulky, weighty appearance, they are extremely lively animals and are capable of scaling very steep rock faces with the aid of their powerful claws. If frightened, they plunge away in a straight line through the bushes and take refuge in a mountain stream. When speaking about the size of these animals, the adults are usually around 5.9 feet in length and 2.5 to 3.3 feet in height at the shoulder. They typically weigh between 330 and 500 pounds, and while the sexes are of similar size, females tend to be around 55 to 220 pounds heavier than the males.
Andean tribesmen hunt them for their tasty meat. As the local farmers push higher and higher into the mountains, their habitat shrinks and is replaced by pastures for grazing. Now, their only places of refuge are a few high valleys. Per Wikipedia: "The mountain tapir is the most threatened of the four Tapirus species, classified as "Endangered" by the IUCN in 1996. Due to the fragmentation of its surviving range, populations may already have fallen below the level required to sustain genetic diversity, and the IUCN has predicted a 20% chance the species could be extinct as early as 2014.
Historically, the woolly mountain tapirs have been hunted for their meat and hides, while the toes, proboscises, and intestines are used in local folk medicines and as aphrodisiacs (dang, don't they have other things to use nowadays, for aphrodisiacs?). Since they will eat crops when available, they are also sometimes killed by farmers protecting their produce. Deforestation for agriculture and mining along with poaching, are the main threats to the species." It sounds like we better start getting more of them to breed in the Zoos, if ya ask me...
Image Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mountain_Tapir2.jpg
---End of Post "The Woolly Mountain Tapir"