Denver Zoo Staff's Quick Action Saves Infant Tapir's Life

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A newborn Malayan tapir calf is alive and doing well thanks to the heroic efforts of two Denver Zoo staff members.

Malayan tapir Dumadi stands near his mother, Rinny

“It’s always a little scary when something like this happens, but thankfully we all have great resources and training,” says McCloskey. “It was such a relief to see him finally take those first breaths.”

A newborn Malayan tapir calf is alive and doing well thanks to the heroic efforts of two Denver Zoo staff members. On September 3, Denver Zoo’s female tapir, Rinny, gave birth inside the rhino/tapir building of Toyota Elephant Passage. Staff watched as Rinny unsuccessfully attempted to free the infant from inside its amniotic sac. Assistant Curator of Toyota Elephant Passage Rebecca McCloskey safely separated mother and calf then freed the newborn from the sac for inspection. Together with staff veterinarian Gwen Jankowski, they began providing mouth to snout rescue breaths and manually stimulated the baby for regular breathing and in order to expel liquid from his lungs. After a few minutes of rescue efforts, the infant successfully began to breathe on his own. The scene was captured on video tape inside the zoo’s Toyota Elephant Passage exhibit.

“It’s always a little scary when something like this happens, but thankfully we all have great resources and training,” says McCloskey. “It was such a relief to see him finally take those first breaths.”

Thanks to the zoo staffers’ efforts, the young infant named Dumadi is now walking and swimming just fine. The tapir is currently doing well with his mother behind the scenes. This is the first birth of his species at the zoo and the first birth of any species in Toyota Elephant Passage.

Dumadi, named for the Indonesian word meaning “becoming,” is the first birth for both Rinny and his father, Benny. Benny was born at the City of Belfast Zoo in Ireland in 2006 and arrived at Denver Zoo from Toronto Zoo in 2007. Rinny was born at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo in 2007 and came to Denver Zoo from there in 2010. The two were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Fortunately, the couple has proved to be an excellent match.

As adults, Malayan tapirs have a distinctive color pattern that some people say resembles an Oreo cookie, with black front and back parts separated by a white or gray midsection. This provides excellent camouflage that breaks up the tapir’s outline in the shadows of the forest. By contrast, young tapirs have color patterns that more resemble brown watermelons with spots and stripes which help them blend into the dappled sunlight and leaf shadows of the forest and protect them from predators.

Though they are most closely related to horses and rhinos, tapirs are similar in build to pigs, but significantly larger. Malayan tapirs have a large, barrel shaped body ideal for crashing through dense forest vegetation. Their noses and upper lips are extended to form a long prehensile snout similar to a stubby version of an elephant’s trunk. Malayan tapirs are the largest of the four tapir species. They stand more than 3-feet-tall and can stretch from between 6 to 8-feet-long. They can also weigh more than 1,100 pounds. They are also excellent swimmers and spend much of their time in water. They can even use their flexible noses as snorkels!

Malayan tapirs are the only tapir native to Asia. Once found throughout Southeast Asia, they now inhabit only the rainforests of the Indochinese peninsula and Sumatra. With a wild population of less than 2,000 individuals they are classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss and hunting.

About Denver Zoo: Denver Zoo is home to 3,800 animals representing more than 650 species and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). AZA accreditation assures the highest standards of animal care.

A leader in environmental action, Denver Zoo is dedicated to ensuring the safety of the environment in support of all species and is the first U.S. zoo to receive ISO 14001 certification for the entire facility and operations. This international certification ensures the zoo is attaining the highest environmental standards.

Since 1996, Denver Zoo has participated in 577 conservation projects in 58 countries on all seven continents. In 2011 alone, Denver Zoo participated in 84 projects in 17 countries and more than $1 million in funds was spent by the zoo in support of animal conservation in the field.

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Sean Andersen-Vie
Denver Zoo
(303) 376-4818
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