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Keywords:

  • Malay tapir Tapirus indicus;
  • Borneo;
  • zooarchaeology;
  • Pleistocene;
  • Holocene extinction

Abstract

The Malay tapir, Tapirus indicus Desmarest 1819, currently has a patchy distribution that covers parts of Myanmar, southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia and the island of Sumatra. The palaeontological record extends its past range to include China and the Greater Sunda islands of Java and Borneo. A compilation of specimens from cave excavations in the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, including finds reported here for the first time, shows that Malay tapirs occurred in northern Borneo from the late Upper Pleistocene, ca. 45,000 years ago, through Holocene to near recent dates. The palaeo-population of Borneo tended to be slightly smaller than extant Tapirus indicus of Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra, but taxonomically inseparable. While undoubtedly present in the archaeological record through the activities of human cave visitors, it is likely that tapirs were not the targeted quarry of hunting practices directed mainly at bearded pigs. Their representation among overall finds of medium and large mammal remains in the Sunda region shows that tapirs were rare in all environments from Middle Pleistocene to Holocene. Their present ecology indicates that climate change of the post-Pleistocene, with restoration of the humid tropical rainforest environment, would have reduced the extent of available habitat favourable to the species. Although no authenticated museum specimens have been obtained in Borneo, these archaeological results give plausibility to anecdotal reports of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is possible that the final disappearance of the tapir from the island was a recent phenomenon. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.