Skip to main content

Apparently This Matters: Baby Baird's tapir

Baby Felix is cute now, but soon he'll lose his stripes, get all huge, and be weird looking.
Baby Felix is cute now, but soon he'll lose his stripes, get all huge, and be weird looking.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jarrett Bellini travels to Nashville to meet their zoo's new arrival
  • Photos of the baby Baird's tapir surfaced on Reddit
  • Bellini: "Trust me, this goofy little thing has an absolutely incredible story"
  • The Nashville Zoo's ungulate manager saves the day

Editor's note: Each week in "Apparently This Matters," CNN's Jarrett Bellini applies his warped sensibilities to trending topics in social media and random items of interest on the Web.

Nashville (CNN) -- If I've learned anything after many years in news, it's that people love cute, baby animals. And car chases.

So, really, we're sort of all just waiting for a newborn panda to rob a bank, steal a Nissan, and drive it to the Mexican border for an explosive three-hour shootout.

Anderson Cooper will go on air later that night with a teary, bittersweet final report.

"Welp, that's as good as it gets. Kill your TV. There is no longer anything worth seeing."

Unfortunately, even just normal, non-panda-related car chases are rather rare. Though, Florida, Texas and California do try their best. Bless their hearts.

\
"Apparently This Matters" Is Jarrett Bellini's weekly (and somewhat random) look at social-media trends.

Baby animals, on the other hand, are seemingly everywhere. I recently had the opportunity to meet a very special one in person.

Trust me, this goofy little thing has an absolutely incredible story.

A few days ago, before setting off on a work trip to Nashville, I started searching the Web for anything trending in that city I could write about while I was in town. Through Reddit, I quickly discovered a popular link with adorable photos of this strange new creature that very well might have been the result of an aardvark mating with Danny DeVito.

(Which, I'm told, is considered "das sexy" in Germany.)

This bizarre little newborn was a Baird's tapir from the Nashville Zoo, and it's actually nothing at all like an aardvark. Or Danny DeVito. In fact, its closest living relatives are horses.

And I only know all this because I made a short visit to the zoo to meet with Lanny Brown, its ungulate manager.

"Ungulate" is a science word. And those make me dizzy. So, let's just call him Hoof Master General, for he described his body of work as: "Everything from deer all the way up to elephants and everything in between."

Now, you've probably never heard of a Baird's tapir, so the first thing you need to know is that it's technically a Spanish word. Thus, one might accurately pronounce the second part 'tap-YEAR.'

I choose not to be accurate.

The common North American way of saying it is 'TAPE-uhr' -- like the guys with the tall microphones at Widespread Panic concerts who record the shows.

However you decide to pronounce it, there are four species of tapir -- all of which, as adults, become delightfully ugly and sort of look like 500-pound versions of Watto from Star Wars. Essentially, if animals did online dating, these would be the really desperate ones who "respond frequently."

This particular breed that we're talking about here, is actually native to southern Mexico and central America. But they're endangered, so it's pretty remarkable that the Nashville Zoo successfully bred one in captivity.

Though, it almost ended in tragedy. And that's where this story gets both amazing and disgusting all at once. Sort of like when I fear-floss an hour before the dentist.

Baby Felix introduces himself to the world.
Baby Felix introduces himself to the world.

It all went down on January 12 when the mother tapir, Houston, finally gave birth to her cute little baby boy, Felix. There was no mention of daddy tapir during this miracle, but it's safe to assume he was off doing guy things like lighting stuff on fire and burping into a microphone.

After Felix was born, his mother was supposed to gently use her teeth to open the embryonic sac, releasing her calf into the world to breathe on its own. However, in this particular instance, she actually went directly to step two: Eating the placenta and afterbirth. Because, really, who can resist?

Meanwhile, poor Felix was suffocating in the embryonic sac.

Eventually, zoo staff was able to move mom into another stall so our brave Hoof Master General could get to the baby and set it free. Only, by this point, it wasn't breathing. So, they started the equivalent of human CPR.

"There was a lot of fluid in his snout that had to be sucked out first," Brown said. "I would love to tell you I was so much in the moment that I didn't think about it at all, but that's not true by any means. It was (sigh) very similar to -- what's a good way to put it -- you know when you have a really, really runny nose. It's that same salty, mucousy kinda taste. I spit it out as quickly as I could. It had to be done."

After about 15 minutes of supplemental breaths and compressions, little Felix finally started breathing on his own and, weeks later, is as healthy as can be. On top of that, he's already sort of an Internet star.

Now, if only we can teach him to rob banks and drive a Nissan.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Apparently This Matters...
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
The other day I saw a death metal band hanging out by their tour van in the parking lot behind a club. They were all dressed in black, and may or may not have been working on lyrics to a new song about fire and lamb meat.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
There are two good reasons to own a giant trampoline.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 2251 GMT (0651 HKT)
I would love to say my dog is intellectually qualified to be a service animal. But he's not. There's barely enough brainpower there to be a lamp.
June 8, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
I've never really needed an extra ear.
June 4, 2014 -- Updated 2032 GMT (0432 HKT)
I never actually caught a glimpse of the Tooth Fairy when I was young, but she was definitely real and in cahoots with my mom. This, due to the fact that I never woke up to find a Nintendo.
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 1957 GMT (0357 HKT)
Have you ever seen a man running in a marathon, bleeding from his nipples?
May 16, 2014 -- Updated 1952 GMT (0352 HKT)
Brace yourselves, because this week's story is about sperm and poop.
May 9, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
I once stayed at a youth hostel in Copenhagen called Sleep in Heaven. Which sounds quite pleasant until you realize that, apparently, heaven is cold and damp and completely infested with bedbugs.
May 4, 2014 -- Updated 1443 GMT (2243 HKT)
I'm not a violent man. Short, self-doubting gingers tend not to be the fiercest of creatures.
April 29, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
For a long time it feels like we haven't seen much of Ronald McDonald. Not for nothing, but I heard he shanked Grimace in a back alley somewhere down in Mexico.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
I haven't had a single Diet Coke in 2014. It was a conscious health decision, and the only real side effect, now, is that the world is awful and I hate everything.
April 4, 2014 -- Updated 2120 GMT (0520 HKT)
The art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting animal skins is called taxidermy, and it can range from classy to creepy depending on whether your subject is a moose, or, say, a homeless drifter.
May 1, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
The July 21, 1969, headline of the New York Times read, "MEN WALK ON MOON."
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1655 GMT (0055 HKT)
I once uploaded an Instagram of me at Old Navy trying to get all kissy-face with a mannequin. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but she was rather unresponsive.
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 2213 GMT (0613 HKT)
I use a Keurig coffee machine at home because I'm lazy. And, quite frankly, don't feel like I've really done my duty to God and country until I've added a little something to the landfill.
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 1838 GMT (0238 HKT)
I wouldn't necessarily call myself a true germaphobe, but if entering a domestic partnership with a bottle of Purell were legal I'd certainly consider it.
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
Fact: The most underrated cute animal on the face of the planet is the walrus.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
A wise man once said, "I'm not wearing pants today."
February 7, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Let me tell you about the time I spent $388.58 replacing a single light bulb.
February 1, 2014 -- Updated 1622 GMT (0022 HKT)
Attention minions of Colonel Meow:
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 1810 GMT (0210 HKT)
It's the stuff of movies. Bad movies. But movies.
ADVERTISEMENT