|South American tapir, Tapirus terrestris|
He is a relative of the rhinoceros and like his rhino cousins, he loves the water. They play, swim, dive, and use it to protect themselves from predators.
Their feet are specially designed for swimming and walking on muddy shores. Each of their front feet has four splayed toes, a bit like having a fin or snowshoe on your feet. Their back feet have a similar design but with three toes. They nap and hide in the forest during the day and then head out at night to munch on leaves, shoots, fruit, and other green goodies in the Amazon Rainforest and the River Basin in South America, east of the Andes.
We find fossil remains of tapir first appearing in the middle Eocene, 41 million years ago. While many families of perissodactyls achieved very high levels of diversity, there have never been more than a few species of tapirs. Tapirs are also morphologically conservative - their teeth and skeletons resemble those of early ceratomorphs, and some have referred to them as living fossils.
The skull is very specialized with many unique features related to the development of the proboscis. The four living species of tapirs use the prehensile proboscis to browse selectively on leaves, sprouts, and small branches, including aquatic plants and also ingest a great deal of fruit and seeds.
While modern tapir species are confined to tropical forests of South America and Asia, they originated and persisted for many millions of years in more northern regions, even during the ice ages, although their rarity as fossils suggests favourable habitats may have been scarce. Recently a huge fossil accumulation of late Miocene tapirs was discovered near Gray, Tennessee. It is the largest accumulation of fossil tapirs in the world and suggests that tapirs were once very common in some parts of North America.