One of the things that makes Earth so great is its astonishing diversity of life forms. Our planet boasts stunning sea dragons, powerful viruses, and majestic sequoias, but it’s also home to humbler animals like Kruze, the Malayan tapir shown above—at least for now. 

Kruze and his kin, shy as they are, once threw a substantial wrench in scientific theory. The year was 1812, and zoologist Georges Cuvier had just declared that Earth was out of new large mammal species. If other species existed, he insisted, scientists would already know about them. Lo and behold, just a few years later, the Malayan tapir, Tapirus indicus, entered the official scientific record. Chinese people living near rainforests had long spoken of a white-backed, tapir-like creature, but bigoted Cuvier figured that since they weren’t Western scientists, their reports didn’t count, and the species didn’t really exist.

T. indicus is very, very real. These days, Malayan tapirs live in the rainforests of Thailand, Myanmar, and Sumatra, spending their days snarfing leaves off low trees and shrubs. For the most part, they’re quite peaceful creatures, preferring to run rather than fight, but scientists have noted their “vicious bite.” 

Like their cousins the rhinoceroses, Malayan tapirs love the water and will flee into the depths when threatened, using their mini-trunks as snorkels. And if you think Kruze is cute, you should see the babies. Tapir baby-making equipment is certainly effective, if alarming: males have prehensile penises that can grow longer than their legs. 

By now you could probably guess that these gentle weirdos are in danger. As rainforests decline, their habitats shrink, pushing them closer to human settlements. The tapirs’ bad-tasting flesh used to keep them relatively safe from hunters, but people are getting desperate as tastier species begin to vanish. 

Want to help? You can support T. indicus in style by picking up one of these tapir sweater knitting patterns, the proceeds of which go to conservation efforts.

Header image from YouTube // Great Big Story