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Baird’s tapir is expecting at Franklin Park Zoo

In a few months, visitors to the Tropical Forest may notice a new addition to the animal family. It was recently confirmed through a prenatal ultrasound that Abby, a 13-year-old Baird’s tapir, is pregnant.

Through the well-established training program, the staff was able to successfully conduct the prenatal ultrasound on Abby, which revealed a very active baby. All of the training is through positive-reinforcement, operant conditioning. As tapirs are very large, strong animals, training is always conducted through a protected barrier. Baird’s tapirs are really responsive to tactile sensations, and Abby enjoys being gently brushed and scratched. After some gentle brushing, Abby voluntarily laid down on a bed of hay so that staff could examine her and perform the ultrasound.

“The baby looks very good, and is very active. We were able to see its heartbeat and all of the vital structures we wanted to see to make sure that Abby has a healthy baby,” said Dr. Alex Becket, Zoo New England Associate Veterinarian in the department of Animal Health and Conservation Medicine. “While Abby is doing really well throughout her pregnancy, we will continue to monitor her closely. She is an excellent mother and we are looking forward to welcoming this new addition to the Tropical Forest.”

The gestation period for Baird’s tapirs is 13 months. Abby’s birth window, based on observed breeding with her longtime mate Milton, ranges from mid to late October through early January. Baird’s tapir calves are noted for their distinctive coloration of white stripes and spots (similar to a watermelon), which helps to camouflage them in the dappled light of the rainforest. The stripes begin to fade between five and six months of age.

Zoo New England (ZNE) participates in the Baird’s Tapir Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative, inter-zoo program coordinated nationally through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). SSPs are designed to maintain a genetically diverse and demographically stable captive population. Because the AZA managed population is small – 33 males and 21 females – every successful birth and survival helps to secure the captive population. This pregnancy is the result of a recommended breeding, and will be the fourth offspring for Milton and Abby.

Baird’s tapirs – the largest land mammal found in South America – are considered endangered in the wild. While they are hunted for food and sport, their greatest threat to survival is habitat destruction due to logging and clearing of land for agriculture and development. In addition to humans, jaguars are the only other significant threat to this animals’ survival in the wild.

ZNE is committed to the conservation of this species and has supported Proyecto Tapir Nicaragua, a program dedicated to protecting Baird’s tapirs and their habitat in Nicaragua. The program combines research through radio collaring tapirs and reintroductions with local and national tapir conservation initiatives, as well as education initiatives to ensure a viable future for Baird’s tapirs in Nicaragua. With funding from ZNE’s Quarters for Conservation program, the Proyecto Tapir Nicaragua team was able to successfully radio collar a wild female Baird’s tapir. Data gathered from the tracking device will help researchers better understand the resources that tapirs need to survive within the Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve, a forest area that is not only home to tapirs but is also home to many other threatened and endangered species.

Learn more about Baird's tapirs.