There are four species of tapir; three species are found in Central and South America, and one inhabits Southeast Asia. At one time it was thought that tapirs are related to pigs, but now scientists know they are related to horses and rhinoceroses. Tapirs can weigh up to 300 kg (660 lb.).
The Malayan tapir is the largest among the species and is distinguished by its unusual coloration: the rear half of the body above the legs is white. The rest is black. The three other tapir species are dark to reddish brown above and paler underneath. All young tapirs are born with a pattern of paler dots and stripes on a brown background which makes them appear, in the words of one zoologist, like 'watermelons with legs'. As they get older, these markings gradually fade away and are replaced by the permanent colours.
Shy and solitary by nature, tapirs are often hunted for their tough hide. In some parts of Asia tapir meat is sold in the shops, although it is said to be less than tasty and it has a high fat content.
The New World species are headed toward extinction as the advance of civilization destroys their environment and as people hunt them, sometimes just for sport. The Malayan tapir is classed as vulnerable.