No tapiring off on assemblies

The Baird's tapir (Tapirella bairdii) is a species of tapir native to Mexico, Central America and northwestern South America. It is the largest native land mammal in both Central and South America!

Baird's Tapir by Eric Kibly, [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com

These nocturnal vegetarians are wide-ranging and responsible for eating a lot of vegetation and dispersing seeds, making them “the gardeners of the forest.” Although their long, flexible snouts (which they can move in all directions) imply familial ties with the elephant, their closest relatives are actually the horse and rhinoceros families.


The Baird's tapir has a distinctive cream-colored marking on its face, throat, and tips of its ears, with a dark spot on each cheek, behind and below the eye. The rest of its hair is dark brown or grayish brown. Females are larger than males and body mass in adults can range from 150 to 400 kilograms.


According to the IUCN, the Baird's tapir is endangered. There are two main contributing factors in the decline of the species; poaching and habitat loss. Though in many areas the animal is only hunted by a few humans, any loss of life is a serious blow to the tapir population because their reproductive rate is so slow. In Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama, hunting of the Baird's tapirs is illegal, but the laws protecting them are often unenforced. Furthermore, restrictions against hunting do not address the problem of deforestation. Therefore, many conservationists focus on environmental education and sustainable forestry to try to save the Baird's tapir and other rainforest species from extinction.


Prior to the beginning of the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative (LTCI), little was known about the health of their populations or the places where they lived. The Houston Zoo has provided funding and support for their wild tapir satellite-collar and camera-trapping studies across the region. From these studies, they have learned that the Pantanal is the most important stronghold for the species so the Houston Zoo is supporting LTCI’s work with Brazilian landowners, schools, and the media to increase public interest and understanding of tapirs and involving them in conservation efforts.


Today, we share the chromosome-length genome assembly for the Baird's tapir, Tapirus bairdii! The genome assembly scaffolded to (2n=80) chromosomes was generated using samples provided by Noah the tapir living at the Houston Zoo. Read more about Noah and his partner Moli in this blog post by the Houston Zoo. Recently they have welcomed their first baby. Cogratulations!


This is a $1K genome assembly, generated from a draft assembly with short-insert size Illumina reads [266,035,705 PE reads] and scaffolded to chromosome length genome with Hi-C [186,199,173 PE reads]. See our Methods page for more details on the procedure. Check the interactive map of the 40 chromosomes,(2n= 80), of the Baird's tapir below!

This is the third tapir species we've released here on the DNA Zoo. Check out the assembly pages for the South American tapir, T. terrestris (2n=80), and the Malayan tapir, T. indicus (2n=52).


We gratefully acknowledge Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and DNA Zoo Australia team at the University of Western Australia for computational and analyses support for this genome assembly.


Blog post by Parwinder Kaur

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