Brookfield, Ill. — The Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, is happy to announce the birth of a male South American tapir calf on May 22. Beginning, May 26, zoogoers will be able to see 11-year-old mom Sorghum (pronounced SOAR-gum) and her yet-to-be-named calf indoors at the Pachyderm House. Once the weather warms a little, they will have access to their outdoor habitat, located on the north side of the building.
Credits: Lynette Kleisner/CZS-Brookfield Zoo
Following a 13-month gestation, Sorghum gave birth to the approximately 20-pound calf. Throughout her pregnancy, the zoo’s veterinary staff was able to monitor the fetus with regular ultrasounds. To accomplish this voluntary behavior from Sorghum, animal care specialists used positive reinforcement to desensitize the 550-pound mother-to-be to the sound of the ultrasound machine, the smell of rubbing alcohol and gel used on the ultrasound probe, and the feeling of the probe on her belly.
“Being able to monitor the development of the tapir fetus and the well-being of Sorghum throughout her pregnancy, is a testament to our dedicated staff and the relationship they have with the animals in their care,” said Joan Daniels, senior curator of animals for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo.
Sorghum arrived at Brookfield Zoo in September 2020, and Sonny, the calf’s sire, a few years earlier in 2017.
Baby tapirs are born with white stripes, which serve as an excellent camouflage. The stripes begin to fade after a few months, and are completely gone by 6 months of age. The calf will nurse from its mom as long as milk is being produced. It will reach full size at about 18 months of age, and are considered mature at 2 to 4 years old.
Tapirs have thick skin and are classified as a pachyderm. The South American tapir is one of four species of tapir that lives in the Americas, with adults reaching around 2.5 to 4 feet tall, and 6 to 8 feet long. Their streamlined bodies make them excellent swimmers, and they can also run fast in short bursts. The species has a distinctive crest on the top of the head and a mane that runs between their forehead and shoulders. They have a prehensile snout that is used to reach leaves and fruit, and large teeth for grinding up their food.
The South American tapir, also known as the lowland tapir, is most closely related to the horse and rhinoceros. The species is found in moist swamp forests and shrublands, grasslands, and a wide variety of wetlands in north and central South America, including Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and Peru. It is the continent’s largest native land mammal. It is listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ (IUCN) Red List, with the population declining due to loss of habitat, hunting, and competition with domestic livestock.
The Chicago Zoological Society has provided support to the Tapir Specialist Group, which is a unit of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. Projects by the organization have included a variety of field research in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and French Guiana, to better understand tapir biology and how to save the species in its native habitat.
Those interested in helping care for the South American at Brookfield Zoo can contribute to the Animal Adoption program. For $35, a recipient receives the Basic Package, which includes a 5-inch x 7-inch color photograph of a tapir, a personalized certificate of adoption, a tapir fact sheet, an Animal Adoption program decal, and an invitation to the exclusive 2022 Animal Adoption summer event. To purchase, visit www.CZS.org/AnimalAdoption.