NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Norfolk zoo’s first ever Malayan tapir baby is named “Luther,” after being born on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
He’s the first baby for both his parents, 9-year-old Haddie and 5-year-old Roscoe, who were brought together through a breeding recommendation, the zoo said in a release Thursday announcing his birth. Tapirs are endangered and only about 2,500 are left in the wild due to large scale deforestation and hunting.
“The staff and I are excited to welcome Luther as a new ambassador to his endangered species,” said Virginia Zoo Executive Director Greg Bockheim. “Few of this species are maintained in human care so his contribution to the genetic pool is important to saving these incredibly unique creatures, known locally as the Giant panda of Southeast Asia. As Asian myth says, all other creatures were created and the remaining parts went into to making the Malayan tapir.”
Luther was just over 15 pounds at his first weigh-in, but has since grown to 44 pounds after nursing with his mom and eating small amounts of banana and other produce, grain, hay and alfalfa.
The zoo says he’s also been introduced to a small pool of warm water so he can get used to being around larger pools. Tapirs, which can grow to about 6 to 8 feet long and 550-710 pounds, are known for their swimming abilities.
Tapirs look like a mixture of an elephant and a pig, and are related to horses and rhinos, the zoo says. Luther’s current coat, which would help camouflage him in the wild, will eventually change to black and white (or gray) when he matures.
The zoo says Luther and Haddie will stay behind the scenes and bond until it’s consistently warm enough to have Luther on exhibit outside. An auction for a behind-the-scenes tour to see Luther and Haddie will happen next month, with all proceeds going to tapir conservation. You can also “Zoodopt” Luther for $50.