Friday, April 22, 2011

Last Chance to See: 5 Asian Animals on the Brink of Extinction


Nothing can compare to seeing an animal in its natural habitat. During my time in Asia I’ve been a ridiculously lucky girl and had the privilege of seeing komodo dragons, orang utans, gharials, pygmy elephants, and even a leopard in the wild. But the truth is these animals are really not that rare.

I don’t want to use the word ‘doomed’ lightly, but the following species are in trouble. They are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, meaning their numbers have decreased by 80% or more over the last three generations. No species is safe from threats like habitat loss, pollution, and poaching, and the 3,000 critically endangered animals on the IUCN Red List range from 80-ton right whales to tiny tropical frogs. 

If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing these animals in the wild you better start planning that trip now. They are among the rarest in Asia and have populations of 500 or less. If you’re like me and a world without tigers or giant salamanders makes you feel ill, consider donating to the World Wildlife Fund.  For a $50 USD donation they’ll even send you a super-cute stuffed animal of an endangered species. Where else can you get a plush okapi or proboscis monkey?

 
Javan Rhinoceros: Considering the Indonesian island of Java is home to over 136,000,000 people it’s not surprising there simply isn’t any space left for the Javan Rhinoceros. The species is so rare that photo traps are used to estimate the population – a dismal 40-60 animals – and it’s considered the ‘rarest large mammal in the world’. This one-horned species wasn’t always so scarce and once occupied lowland rainforests all the way north to China. Second to habitat loss, poaching is a significant threat as rhino horn is highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine; there’s evidence of a protected rhino being killed for its horn as recently as 2010. 

Where to see them:  Get yourself to Ujung Kulon National Park for the last chance to spot the Javan rhino in Java. The park is a UNESCO world heritage site and has rustic accommodations and trekking guides. A small group (less than 10) are also hanging on at Cat Tien National Park in Southern Vietnam.   Rhinos are quiet, solitary animals so the odds of actually seeing one are low, but there are no Javan rhinos in captivity so these two parks are truly the last chance to see one.

** Update 10/31/2011:  Vietnam has lost the fight to protect its last few Javan rhinos. The WWF has declared this species extinct in Vietnam. 


Sumatran Tiger:  Man and tiger do not mix. The Javan and Bali tiger were driven to extinction in the mid-1900s and it looks like the Sumatran tiger will be the next to go. This species has adapted for life in the dense rainforest of Sumatra and is the smallest of the tigers with a darker coat and narrower stripes. The main cause for their rapid decline is habitat loss as the Indonesian rainforest is mowed down and replaced with palm oil plantations. Of the 400 or so tigers that survive in protected areas, the WWF estimates 78% of deaths are from poaching. Despite an international ban on tiger products, people with more money than brains think tiger penis soup cures ED or bandages made with crushed tiger bones make you heal faster.

Where to see them:  Protected wildlife reserves and government parks are the last strongholds of the Sumatran tiger. It’s impossible to gurantee a sighting, but your best chances are with multiple days of trekking in Gunung Leuser or Kerinci Seblat National Park with an experienced guide.


Golden-headed Langur (Cat Ba Langur):  This golden-tressed primate is the world’s rarest and only found on Cat Ba Island in northern Vietnam. The island geography puts natural restrictions on the langurs’ numbers, but poaching decimated the population from an estimated 2,000 animals in the 1960s to a low of just 53 in 2000. The Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project was founded shortly afterward and, though the species is still critically endangered, the population is slowly but steadily recovering. 

Where to see them:  Even without the langurs, Cat Ba Island is a popular tourist destination and visited on boat tours of Halong Bay. The langur population is highly fragmented but you can look for them within the boundaries of Cat Ba National Park in the northern part of the island. A couple golden-headed langurs are also kept at the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre in Cuc Phuong National Park south of Hanoi.


 Mekong River Irawaddy Dolphin: The Mekong River is a life-source for the people and wildlife of Southeast Asia, but pollution is killing the river’s dolphins. The WWF has studied the remains of dead dolphins and discovered high levels of pesticides, heavy metals, and other poisons.  The dolphins inhabit only a 190 km stretch of the river between Cambodia and Laos and a 2007 dolphin census estimates that only 60-80 adults remain. 

Where to see them: The town of Kratie, Cambodia, has made a name for itself as the best place for dolphin watching. A pod of 20-some dolphins has made a permanent home about 20km upriver at a spot called Kampi and you can get a seat in a dolphin-watching boat for as little as $7 USD. Sightings are common. 

Giant Chinese Salamander: These mega-amphibians have lived in lakes and streams for 300,000,000 years, but it doesn’t look like they’ll survive the industrialization of China.  The giant salamanders, the world’s largest amphibian species, can live for 30 years and reach sizes of 1.8 meters and 30 kilograms. The salamanders were once abundant but, due to the triple threat of habitat loss, pollution and poaching, have nearly vanished from the wild. In an ironic twist, total extinction is unlikely because the Chinese have developed a taste for giant salamanders and they are commercially bred for food.

Where to see them:  Wild giant Chinese salamanders can still be found in rocky rivers and lakes in the Qingling Mountain Range in Shaanxi province. New conservation efforts are being made like the establishment of the  Zhangjiajie Giant Salamander Nature Reserve with protected habitat and a research centre. 

33 comments:

  1. Its so sad that some of these animals existed for millions of years and along came humans and now they are disappearing like no tomorrow.

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  2. It's heart-breaking that the jungle animals I was obsessed with as a kid may become extinct within my lifetime. But nature is resilient and will eventually bounce back, but probably without snow leopards and hornbills.

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  3. digging the new design, and the content is top-notch as always.

    just a thought, though - have you considered that promoting these species might hasten their demise? i haven't given the issue any real thought.. just throwing that out there.

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  4. We share the same sentiments. Asian and the respective countries must put more effort in conserving those endangered species. The Sumatran tiger was hunted to near extinction.

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  5. Why do they sell them in supermarkets for cooking?? I understand it's a delicacy but really what is more important.

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  6. :( That is so sad! How can people POACH animals?! Its so cruel!

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  7. The information is very spectacular. Thank you for sharing the information :)
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