The Zoo’s Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey has a new addition: an adorably spotted and striped Baird’s tapir calf! After a 13-month gestation, Luna gave birth to her eagerly anticipated second calf on Sunday, November 10, 2019. When the keepers weighed the little female at 5 days old, she tipped the scales at a healthy 27 pounds.
BY Karen Worley
Photography by Ken Bohn
Luna is taking great care of her calf, nursing her regularly, keeping her tidy, and watching over her. The keepers were thrilled to see Luna taking readily to her maternal role. With Luna’s first calf—Don, born in 2018—she was rather overwhelmed and wasn’t able to care for him, and he required support from the keepers to feed him bottles of milk. This time, however, everything has gone according to plan, and the roly-poly calf is able to take advantage of her mother’s full attention. “She is feisty and fun, and communicates with little chirps,” said Kimberly Hyde, a senior keeper at the Zoo. A tapir calf’s spots and stripes serve as camouflage in the dappled light of their native forest habitat. They start to lose the markings after a few months, and they resemble miniature adults at about eight months of age.
The tapir is a key species in shaping and maintaining the diversity of tropical forests, dispersing seeds in its scat and leaving them well fertilized to grow.
Mother and daughter can be seen trotting around the habitat at Elephant Odyssey that they share with the capybaras and guanacos, seeking out food like lettuce, carrots, fruits, and leafy browse. “The calf is very curious, and she’s actively using her flexible little snout to explore her surroundings, and the other animals,” Kimberly said. Luna is also fond of napping on the sandy bank in the sun. Tapirs are good swimmers, so Luna may also teach her calf to take the plunge eventually.
This calf is more than just an adorable new face: she’s also a valuable addition to the Baird’s tapir population. This tapir species, native to the tropical forests of Mexico and Central America, is listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Habitat loss and hunting have contributed to an estimated 50 percent population decline over the past 30 years, and there are thought to be fewer than 5,000 in their native habitat. San Diego Zoo Global participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Baird’s tapir Species Survival Plan (SSP), which aims to maintain a genetically viable population of this species in accredited zoos.
Like all youngsters, the calf is growing fast—you could say in leaps and bounds, since she’s quite good at those. Come by the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey to see her while she’s still sporting her jaunty spots and stripes!