Prevalence of Resorptive Dental Lesions in Malayan Tapirs (Tapirus indicus)
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2009

Mads F. Bertelsen1, DVM, DVSc; Mari Ann Otkær da Silva1,2; Hanne Kortegaard2, DVM, PhD; Choong Siew Shean3, DVM, MVSc; Jens Arnbjerg2, DVM, DECVDI

1Centre for Zoo and Wild Animal Health, Copenhagen Zoo, Frederiksberg, Denmark; 2Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, Copenhagen University, Frederiksberg, Denmark; 3Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Jalan Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan, Malaysia


Dental disease, as well as facial swelling and osteomyelitis, is a commonly reported entity in tapirs but little is known about actual etiology or prevalence of these lesions.3,4

Resorptive lesions to the roots were diagnosed in the extracted teeth of two Malayan tapirs (Tapirus indicus) by histopathology. In order to evaluate the prevalence of this problem in the species, 38 skulls of deceased tapirs were visually examined and radiographically evaluated. Resorptive lesions were graded according to severity on a scale from 0–5.1,2 Animals were divided into four groups based on their age (juvenile/adult) and origin (captive/free-ranging). Data are presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Distribution of radiolucent tooth root lesions in captive and
free-ranging Malayan tapirs (n=38)


Free-ranging tapirs

Captive tapirs

Animal’s age

Lesions present

Lesions absent

Lesions present

Lesions absent












Overall, 37% of the investigated skulls had dental lesions with decreased radiodensity. In adult zoo animals the prevalence was 82% (9/11), while in their wild counterparts the prevalence was 57% (4/7). The difference in prevalence between captive and free-ranging animals was not statistically significant. Only one of the 21 juvenile animals (5%) was affected.

This study suggests that a very high proportion of tapirs are affected by radiolucent dental lesions believed to represent root resorption. Age appears to be a highly significant factor in the development of these lesions. These preliminary results suggest that free-ranging animals are affected to a comparable extent as captive tapirs.


The authors thank the Museum of Natural History in Copenhagen, Denmark; Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany; and Naturalis in Leiden, Holland; as well as the following individuals for help during the study: Mr. Bent R. Nelson, Mr. Mogens Andersen, Dr. Frieder Mayer, Dr. Helmut Rux, Dr. Erik Eriksen, Dr. Jesper Reibel, Dr. Paul Clausen, Mr. Hein van Grouw, Dr. Willem Schaftenaar, Dr. Zainal Zahari Zainuddin, Mr Osman Asnawi, Mr. Boyd Simpson, and Dr. Carl Træholt.

Literature Cited

1.  American Veterinary Dental College. (VIN editor: link was not accessible as of 1/6/2021.)

2.  DuPont GA. Radiographic evaluation and treatment of feline dental resorptive lesions. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2005;35:943–962.

3.  Janssen DL, Rideout BA, Edwards MS. Tapir medicine. In: Fowler ME, Miller RE, eds. Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 1999:562–568.

4.  Janssen DL. Tapiridae. In: Fowler ME, Miller RE, eds. Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 2003:569–577.


Speaker Information
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Mads F. Bertelsen, DVM, DVSc
Centre for Zoo and Wild Animal Health
Copenhagen Zoo
Frederiksberg, Denmark

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