On January 29, 2010, San Diego Zoo staff members were delighted to discover that Chantek, a Malayan tapir, had given birth to a healthy baby boy! The average lifespan of a tapir is roughly 30 years, so at age 26 this is quite a feat for Chantek (who is currently the second oldest female Malayan tapir in the North American collection). The oldest tapir on record to have given birth in a zoological setting was a miraculous 32 years old.
Although not a record-breaking event, staff members were ecstatic about this birth. San Diego Zoo Animal Care Manager Michele Stancer, who is also the studbook keeper for the Malayan tapir, couldn’t be happier and noted that the genetic pairing of Chantek and her mate, Chukai (see post Tapir Tales), is a boon to the zoological population of this species.
At first, Zoo vets had some moderate concerns about our new arrival. The youngster, named Tembikai, had a slightly lower-than-average birth weight, and his blood glucose level was just shy of normal. Keepers observed the little guy nursing, but there was some question as to whether or not Chantek, due to her age, was producing any milk. A quick blood test showed that Tembikai had received his mother’s immunological agents, and careful monitoring of his weight evidenced his steady growth.
Now, at a month old, Tembikai is thriving. His body shape is an exact replica of the adults, complete with sloped rump and a very active prehensile nose. His coloration is quite different, though. His legs are covered in spots, and his torso has stripes that resemble a watermelon. In fact, that is what “tembikai” means in Malay. He has tripled in weight, is ably navigating his environs, boldly exploring his swimming pool, running and jumping circles around his mother, and (despite a lack of teeth) is already sampling solid foods. Weaning doesn’t generally occur until 6 to 8 months of age, which is also about the time Tembikai will start losing his “baby stripes.” Chantek (which means “beautiful” in Malay) is also doing very well. Tembikai is her eighth offspring, so Chantek is very well versed in the ways of motherhood.
Nate Schierman is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Hogs, Okapis, Hippos, and More.