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Keywords:

  • estrous cycle;
  • hormones;
  • reproduction;
  • spermatozoa;
  • tapir

Abstract

Tapirs (Tapirus sp.) have been studied extensively in the wild, yet little is known about their fundamental reproductive biology, information that is critical to establishing self-sustaining populations in captivity as a hedge against extinction. This paper reviews information on the reproductive biology of the 4 species of tapirs: Baird's (Tapirus bairdii), lowland (T terrestris), mountain (T pinchaque) and Malayan (T indicus). Both sexes reach puberty between 14 and 48 months of age. Behaviorally, tapirs display few overt signs of estrus, and external signs of pregnancy are not evident until approximately 2 months before parturition. Immunoassay techniques to measure reproductive hormones in blood and urine have been validated for tapirs, which allow monitoring of ovarian cycle activity and pregnancy. Data indicate that females are polyestrous, with an estrous cycle length of approximately 30 days. The exception is the Malayan tapir, which exhibits 2 types of cycles: short (approximately 1 month) and long (approximately 2 months). Gestation length is approximately 13 months and females can conceive at the first post-partum cycle within 1 month after birth. Good quality ejaculates have been obtained via electroejaculation in the Baird's and Malayan tapir and the sperm from Baird's tapir cryopreserved using standard cryodiluents, although more work is needed to optimize these protocols. Given that all 4 species of tapir most likely will continue to be maintained in captivity, effective genetic management is vital for long-term survival. Optimization of assisted reproductive technologies, including sperm cryopreservation and artificial insemination, could benefit the genetic management of tapirs.