Video: Zookeepers perform ‘mouth to snout’ resuscitation to save newborn tapir

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DENVER -- Zookeepers are called heroes after they came to the rescue and saved the life of a baby Malayan tapir just minutes after he was born Sept. 3

Rebecca McCloskey, Denver Zoo assistant curator, rushed in to help the unresponsive newborn, and performed "mouth to snout" resuscitation to save the little guy's life.

They were watching on a video monitor as Rinny gave birth inside the rhino/tapir building. They saw that Rinny was unsuccessful in her attempts to free the newborn from inside his amniotic sac.

You can see it happen in the video clip.

"It was scary, really scary," McCloskey says. "In the video you see us run in and tap around the eye to see if there is a blink response. He did not. That's a really scary thing to see in an animal."

Rebecca, along with zoo veterinarian Gwen Jankowski, moved the mother tapir into another area. Then Rebecca performed her life-saving mouth to snout resuscitation.

"Well they don't teach that in college, it's kind of something you have to feel out," she says. "His nose was plugged with fluid, so I didn't have to worry about air intake through his nose, so I just opened his mouth wide as possible, got as good of a seal around his mouth with mine as I could and puffed some air."

A few minutes later the baby tapir, named Dumadi, began breathing on his own. The zoo staff began breathing a huge, collective sigh of relief.

"This animal is so important to the zoo, the team and the captive [tapir] population, I was not going to let him go without a fight," McCloskey says.

Baby and mother are doing fine now, shining the spotlight on an otherwise under-appreciated animal.

"They're not closely related to any other animals so anyone who has access to a zoo with tapirs should go see them, they're pretty special animals," McCloskey says.

Tapirs are large browsing mammals similar in shape to a pig, but larger. They have a short snout. Tapirs live in jungle and forest regions of South America, Central America and Southeast Asia.

Tapirs' closest relatives are horses and rhinos.

The Denver Zoo's Malayan tapirs are the only species native to Asia. As adults, Malayan tapirs have a distinctive color pattern that some people say resembles an Oreo cookie, with black front and back parts separated by a white or gray midsection.

They can grow to weigh more than 1,100 pounds and they are outstanding swimmers. They can even use their flexible noses as snorkels.

There are four different species of tapirs, all of which are classified as endangered or vulnerable.

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