When Bertie met Johnny

I took two or three laps around the Tropics trail yesterday — partly to bask in greenery, warmth and birdsong on an icy gray day and partly to keep tabs on the romantic alliance unfolding in our tapir exhibit.

Bertie the tapir (the one on the right in all three photos) has held the fort alone for many months since the death of a female companion, but her life is perking up with the recent addition of a love interest from Omaha. Malayan tapirs, which weigh at least 500 pounds and are native to Southeast Asia, live about 30 years; Bertie’s about four years old, and her new guy, Jon-hi, is a whippersnapper at about 18 months. As I watched them eat from bowls with foreheads pressed together, an informative intern stopped by (how convenient!) to answer my questions. Jon-hi (which he pronounced Johnny) won’t be sexually mature until he’s nearly Bertie’s age, but in the meantime they seem to enjoy each other’s company. When Jon-hi laid his head across Bertie’s back or sniffed her a little intrusively, she made a birdlike squealing noise. Both tapirs sniffed the air dramatically, lifting their elongated snouts skyward and baring their teeth — the standard tapir response to the scent of a potential mate, the informative intern told me.

Nothing looks quite like a tapir, a creature related to rhinos and horses but not to pigs or elephants. That elongated snout can serve as a snorkel while a tapir strolls a lakebed browsing for aquatic plants. Normally they do this at night, and before Jon-hi’s arrival, any Tropics trail tapir sighted in daylight was usually a sleeping tapir. Clearly, the excitement of a new companion is enough to disrupt anyone’s regular schedule.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andrew Haertzen
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 18:11:07

    Thank you so much for this post, made my day really. I wished I could have seen those two together before I left. I am glad to hear of so much excitement surrounding that exhibit!


  2. Marlene Ytterboe
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 22:39:23

    Great pictures and interesting information update.


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