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Baird’s tapir pregnant with twins at Franklin Park Zoo

Abby, a Baird’s tapir at Franklin Park Zoo, is an experienced mother. So when the staff suspected she was pregnant, it was assumed that this pregnancy would be very similar to her previous pregnancies and successful deliveries.

But on Dec. 26, 2019, the animal care and veterinary teams received a big surprise when Abby’s ultrasound revealed she is carrying twins. Twins are incredibly rare in all tapir species, and indeed may be a first in Baird’s tapirs, as we can find no record of it occurring previously in zoos or in the wild.

“We have consulted with colleagues and experts around the world on this highly unusual pregnancy. While this is very exciting, it does come with some risk to survival of both calves,” said Dr. Eric Baitchman, Zoo New England Vice President of Animal Health and Conservation. “Since tapirs are distantly related to horses, where twin pregnancies are also rare and risky, we can use what we know about twin foals to plan and prepare well for Abby. We are also in consultation with large animal veterinarians at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Abby is healthy and well, and the twins’ development looks very good so far. I am cautiously optimistic that the twins will be delivered safely.”


While Abby’s full-term due date would be in mid-September, her care team is prepared for an earlier delivery, as is often the case with twins in many species, including humans. By July 1, the twins will have reached 80% of their development. August 9 would mark 90% of gestation, which is an important benchmark in horses, representing a point in development with a higher chance of survival for the twins.

The average gestation period for Baird’s tapirs is 13 months. Abby has been in good health throughout her pregnancy, and currently weighs 648 pounds. The veterinary and animal care teams have conducted regular transabdominal ultrasounds, weight checks, and bloodwork to monitor her hormone levels. In August, ultrasound frequency will increase to weekly.

In preparation for the delivery, the staff has installed an additional chute in her off-exhibit space, which will enable the veterinary team to better assist in the delivery if needed. The ultrasounds are also being done in this space to better acclimate Abby to the chute.

“Throughout Abby’s pregnancy, we have increased the number of training sessions with her care team, enabling us to more closely monitor her pregnancy and health. Our well-established training program requires a lot of trust between the trainer and animal, and we are very fortunate that Abby is so receptive to training. She has been enjoying all of the extra attention, and especially loves when her care team uses a brush to scratch her back,” said Erica Farrell, Assistant Curator of Franklin Park Zoo’s Tropical Forest.

ZNE participates in the Baird’s Tapir Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative, inter-zoo program coordinated nationally through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). SSPs help to ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums, most of which are threatened or endangered, and enhance conservation of these species in the wild. Because the AZA managed population is so small – 24 males and 19 females – every successful birth and survival helps to secure the captive population. Abby has previously given birth to four healthy calves, each of whom resides at other AZA accredited institutions per breeding recommendations by the SSP. This pregnancy is the result of a recommended breeding between Abby and her late mate Milton. When Milton passed away at age 30 last year, he was the oldest Baird’s tapir within the AZA managed population.

Similar to a deer fawn, Baird’s tapir calves are distinctly marked with watermelon-like white stripes and spots, which help to camouflage them in the dappled light of the rainforest. The stripes begin to fade between five and six months of age.

An endangered species, Baird’s tapirs are the largest land mammal found in South America. While they are hunted for food and sport, their greatest threat to survival is habitat destruction due to logging and clearing of land for agriculture and development. In addition to humans, jaguars are the only other significant threat to this animals’ survival in the wild.

Zoo New England is committed to Baird’s tapir conservation and partners with the Baird’s Tapir Survival Alliance to protect Baird’s tapirs in Central America.