A female Baird’s tapir born on Monday, February 17, 2014 at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society is the Zoo’s first birth of 2014, and a new Zoo blog (www.palmbeachzoo.blog.com) will post updates of the calf’s condition, along with other Zoo topics. “Alyssa,” a Baird’s tapir, gave birth in the evening to a female calf, and has since remained extremely protective of it. Wildlife Care and Conservation staff closed all foot traffic around the area where “Alyssa” currently remains, with only her primary zookeepers having access to the mother and baby.
Jan Steele, General Curator for the Zoo, said the calf appears to be in good health. “We want to prevent ‘Alyssa’ from inadvertently injuring the calf while she is trying to protect it,” said Steele. “We expect her to calm down over the next day or two, but until then, we want to give her space to strengthen the mother-calf bond.”
Steele said zookeepers have not yet witnessed any nursing, but the calf has shown energy, which leads them to believe “Alyssa” may have allowed the baby to nurse overnight. Zookeepers are keeping a close watch over the pair, to monitor whether there is a need for supplemental bottle-feeding.
Over the past few weeks, veterinary staff took multiple ultrasounds of the calf’s progress. Its heart tripled in size from the moment the Zoo veterinarian detected a heartbeat on January 17, 2014 to just one week later, on January 24, 2014. A birth seemed impending in late January. However, “Alyssa” took her time, and vet staff continued to watch her, until she gave birth.
Zookeepers had been studying methods to increase the likelihood that “Alyssa” would accept this calf, and believe her overprotectiveness of the new calf is a good sign that she will rear it. She rejected her first calf, “Timmy,” who was later found to have had a double ear infection, which caused him to tip over. “Timmy” has since transferred to another zoo as part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP) as advised by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
The calf’s weight is still unknown, but Steele said if all goes well, a physical could soon determine its size. “This tapir calf looks strong and active,” Steele said. “Although we would like to give it a check-up within a week or two, the most important thing right now is for ‘Alyssa’ to bond with her baby. That means we could stay hands-off for a while.”
Baird’s tapirs are most closely related to horses. It is a species of tapir native to Central America and northern South America, and is one of four Latin American species of tapir. For the first week of their lives, infant Baird’s tapirs are hidden in secluded locations while their mothers forage for food and return periodically to nurse them.
Baird’s tapirs are in danger of extinction, and were officially classified as “Vulnerable” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Human hunting and habitat loss are the two biggest factors in the species’ diminishing numbers, so any tapir birth is critical, especially because their reproductive rate is slow. Environmental education and sustainable forestry can help save Baird’s tapirs and other rainforest species from extinction.
Tapir calves have white spots and stripes, which serve as camouflage. This pattern eventually fades into adulthood.