Wildlife in South and Southeast Asia
The Hindu Kush, the Himalayas, and the Patkai range form the border to the Palearctic region.
In Indonesia, it borders the Australasian region. The big spider-shaped Sulawesi island is the center of Wallacea, a transitional ecosystem between these, identified by both the WWF and Conservation International as a global conservation priority area. The name commemorates the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who travelled through the region from 1854 to 1862, age 31 to 39, setting up bases on Makassar and Manado, to collect specimens for sale and to study natural history. He noted the differences in mammal and bird fauna between the islands either side of the now-called Wallace line. West of it, Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Borneo share a mammal fauna similar to that of East Asia, including tigers, rhinoceros, and apes, whereas those from Lombok and eastward are mostly populated by marsupials and birds similar to those in Australasia. Sulawesi shows signs of both.
|Major wildlife regions
North America • Central & South America • Africa • Madagascar • Eurasia • South & Southeast Asia • Australasia • Arctic • Southern Ocean
The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is the only elephant species which is regularly tamed, a cruel process which tourists are increasingly choosing not to support (see Chiang Mai#Wildlife for details). Fortunately, travelers can see Asian elephants in national parks and animal sanctuaries in several countries instead.
The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is the world's most numerous tiger subspecies, and the national animal of India and Bangladesh. Other extant tiger populations include the Malayan tiger, the national animal of Malaysia that is also found in parts of southern Thailand, the Indochinese tiger found in parts of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and the Sumatran tiger found in Sumatra.
The leopard (Panthera pardus) was prevalent across the region, but is today endangered.
The same is true for the dhole (Cuon alpinus), a canid similar in size and behavior to wolves, but readily distinguishable by head shape (convex in dholes, concave in wolves).
Asian pangolins are endangered and hard to see in the wild. African pangolins are healthier, ecologically speaking.
Orangutans are the only extant great apes native to Asia, or for that matter, to a region outside Africa. They are divided into three species: Sumatran (Pongo abelii), Tapanuli (Pongo tapanuliensis), and Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus). The former two can only be found in the wild on Sumatra, an island in Indonesia, while the later can only be found on Borneo, which is mainly split between Malaysia and Indonesia. All three species are critically endangered, making it extremely unlikely that you will encounter them in the wild.
The easiest way to see orangutans is to go to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre near Sandakan, Malaysia. They rescue Bornean orangutans that were illegally kept as pets or orphaned due to poaching, and attempt to rehabilitate them so they can be released into the wild. There are also numerous wildlife tours tours in the Malaysian state of Sabah, including along the Kinabatangan River and in the Danum Valley, where you will have opportunities to spot some. On the Indonesian side of the island, the tourism industry is not as well developed, though your best bet at seeing orangutans would be to go to Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan.
The tourism industry is not as well-developed in Sumatra, making it harder to spot the Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutans, but Sumatran orangutan spotting tours are available from Bukit Lawang. The Tapanuli orangutan is the most endangered of all the great ape species, and found in the south and east of Lake Toba. As it was only discovered in 2017, it is not widely known yet, so as of 2023 there are no known tours to spot it.
The proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) is a large monkey named for its exceptionally long nose. It lives only on the island of Borneo, and can be seen in all three countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei) that divide the island. It generally lives in trees near water and is able to swim. It can be spotted easily from the rivers near Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei and Bako National Park in Malaysia.
Some species of macaques (Macaca) are endemic to the region. Some of them like to spend their time up in trees, whereas others are more likely to be seen on the ground. In areas with humans, you might see them trying to steal people's food. The most common macaque is the crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis). The rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) is found in Hong Kong, southern China and the northern parts of this region. The Formosan rock macaque (Macaca cyclopis) is unique to Taiwan, and the island's only native non-human species of primate.
There are also numerous other monkey species that can be found. The silvery lutung (Trachypithecus cristatus) is found in parts of Sumatra, Borneo and the Malay Peninsula; while the infants are born with pale skin and orange fur, their fur and skin colour eventually changes to grey by the time they reach sexual maturity. The banded surili (Presbytis femoralis) can mainly be found in parts of Sumatra, southern Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia, with a critically endangered population in Singapore.
The long-armed gibbon swings acrobatically through trees in most of these countries. The siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus), largest of the gibbons and the only species in its genus, is native to Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and southern Thailand. It's known for having a throat pouch that it uses to make loud, resonating calls.
The cute little slow loris is nocturnal and therefore hard to spot in the wild without some effort.
Pheasants (Phasianinae) are characteristic of the region.
The peafowl or peacock has two species in South Asia; the Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) and the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus).
The red junglefowl is the wild ancestor of domestic chickens, and is found in forested areas of eastern India, Nepal, Bangladesh, parts of southern China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, and the chain of islands stretching from Bali all the way to the island of Timor. While unable to fly long distances, they are generally better at flying than domestic chickens, and usually roost in trees.
Monitor lizards (Varanus) can be found in Indonesia and Malaysia. They are generally very big lizards, growing up to two meters or even more. Most live on land, but some can swim or climb trees. Though their size may be scary, they generally don't attack humans unless threatened and will probably waddle away (at a surprising speed!) when they hear you coming. The largest that still exist are Komodo dragons, which can grow up to three meters and can be seen in Komodo National Park in Indonesia, and those can attack people.
Banyan trees (Ficus benghalensis), also known as "strangler figs", are not unique to this part of Asia, but they're widespread here. These trees grow on other trees, and on walls, buildings, and bridges that have been abandoned for very long. They spread out in beautifully fascinating networks of branches, roots, and vines. Sometimes the original host rots away, leaving puzzling structures like hollow, right-angled, or perfectly cylindrical banyans, which give clues about what was there before these extraordinary trees took over. Some destinations (like the "Tree House" in Tainan) are famous for banyans, but you can find them on all kinds of historic structures, ruins, and ghost towns in the areas where they grow.
Sweet osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans) bushes produce small white flowers with a strong, sweet scent. The flowers are used to flavor food and drinks in China, including osmanthus wine, or infused with green or black tea leaves to create osmanthus tea (桂花茶; guìhuāchá).
- Botanical tourism in Singapore
- Indian national parks and wildlife sanctuaries
- Indian Zoos and Botanical Gardens
- Indonesian National Parks