Brevard Zoo tapir dies during procedure

'Pee Wee' the tapir lives to be 21 years old

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Pee Wee, a Baird's tapir, eats a watermelon at Brevard Zoo. The 550-pound Pee Wee was one of the earliest animals featured at the zoo when it opened in 1994.

MELBOURNE, Fla. - One of the original animals at Brevard Zoo, a tapir named Pee Wee, died Wednesday during a medical procedure to his toe.

He was 21.

Pee Wee, a 550-pound male Baird's tapir, had long been suffering a chronic toe infection and died during a procedure to surgically treat the infected toe, according to Local 6 news partner Florida Today.

Always a popular attraction, Pee Wee lived at Brevard Zoo since its inception in 1994. He had come to Brevard from a Miami zoo.

The exact cause of Pee Wee's death remains uncertain. Tapirs can live up to 30 years.

"We don't know at this point," Winsten said. "During his procedure, his vitals started dropping, we stopped the procedure."

But the tapir could not be saved.

Pee Wee was one of three tapirs at the zoo. He had been housed with Josephine and sired six offspring while at the zoo, including Tootsie, the baby female Baird's tapir, born April 6. Baird's tapirs, the national animal of Belize, have historically been found in southeastern Mexico through northern Colombia to the Gulf of Guayaquil in Ecuador. In Belize, they're known as the mountain cow.

Wild tapir populations have been in decline and are believed to number fewer than 5,500. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global environmental group, currently lists the species as endangered.

As of early this year, the captive tapir population consisted of 22 males and 10 females in 19 accredited facilities, including Brevard Zoo.

Since 2005, Brevard Zoo has funded tapir field conservation projects through the Institute for Ecological Research in Central America. The zoo provided funding for four radio collars to track tapirs and collect data regarding their habitat use and foraging. The zoo's Quarters for Conservation program is expected to provide up to $3,000 to support tapir field conservation programs this year.

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