In Life’s Race, Tapirs Took a Slow and Steady Pace
Why are there tapirs in southeast Asia? They seem out of place. Out of the four living tapir species, three inhabit the lush forests of Central and South America, making the Malayan tapir of Myanmar, Thailand, and Sumatra a strange outlier.
Wallace was wrong about the fixed position of the continents – something we can hardly blame him for given the scientific consensus at the time! – but he was right that the deep history of tapirs bridged the perplexing gap between the living species. That story goes back about fifty five million years or so. The very first tapirs were small creatures that were not very different from other odd-toed, hoofed herbivores such as early horses, rhinos, brontotheres, and