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Animals and Wildlife in Thailand

Thailand Scenery
Thailand scenery. Image by jakob owens via Unsplash

Welcome to Animals and Wildlife in Thailand.

Thailand is a popular and stunning beach destination in Southeast Asia. This country, rich in culture and beauty, also is home to incredible animals and wildlife. We will pinpoint and discover but a few of these fantastic animals.
Thailand hosts over 10% of global animal species, including 285 mammals like elephants, tigers, leopards, sun bears, deer, otters, and various primates. The island also features sheep, goats, wild cattle, and hogs. Explore the blog using these headings or read it all.

Animals and Wildlife in Thailand: Elephants

Asian Elephant
Elephant in Asia. Image by iswanto arif via Unsplash

There are approximately 2000 wild elephants in Thailand. After a 1989 logging ban, most logging elephants ended up in the tourist industry. This is a massive tourist trap, and the elephants caught in this sickening trade are severely abused and mistreated. Many of Thailand’s captive elephants are poached from the wild, leading to 60% of Thailand’s total elephant population being captive elephants, and 60% of those are used for tourism.

Elephants are so ingrained in Thai culture that they are recognized as a symbol of national identity. For hundreds of years, these incredible creatures have stood alongside Thai people in pursuits such as war, labor, transportation, and, more recently and unfortunately, tourism.

Thailand is home to Indian elephants, a subspecies of the Asian elephant. Once, the country teemed with wild elephants, boasting an estimated population of approximately 100,000 in 1900, as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. However, today, the elephant landscape has drastically changed, with only between 3,000 and 4,000 elephants remaining in Thailand. Tragically, nearly half of them endure captivity and challenging living conditions. This decline in numbers has led to the classification of Asian elephants as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Roles of Elephants in the Past

These giant animals have been featured in Thai culture for centuries. They were once a symbol of leadership and power; now, they reflect some of the struggles and injustices in Thailand’s development over recent history.
Here is an overview of the different roles elephants in Thailand have held over the years.

Black elephant
Shallow focus of black elephants. Image by alex azabache via Unsplash

Elephants and War

Thai elephants were used as weapons in warfare from the fifteenth century. Their strength and size made them powerful in battle.
Elephants were basically the equivalent of tanks. Covered in armour, carrying soldiers, and charging speeds of around 25 kilometres per hour, they were formidable opponents.
Thai kings and generals would ride elephants into battle against the Burmese, Khmer, and other enemies.

Elephants and Royalty
Elephants became synonymous with royalty, and the more elephants a king possessed, the more status and power he had.
White elephants, in particular, were associated with royalty and the moral authority of a monarch. As such, possessing white elephants was a way for Thai kings to prove their legitimacy.

White elephants in Thailand are not actually albino but have white colouring in seven significant places: the eyes, palate, toenails, hair, skin, tail, and genitals.
As white elephants are considered sacred, they are not allowed to work, be sold, given away, or killed. This makes them very expensive to keep. Legend has it that in the past, Thai kings would occasionally gift white elephants to their enemies, as the care of elephants that can’t work would eventually cause them financial ruin.

Two gray elephants
Two gray elephants standing on grass near a tree. Image by marc bombenon via Unsplash

Elephants and Labour
In addition to being used in battles, elephants were also put to work in the logging industry, hauling teak wood through dense jungle. Ironically, elephants were used to destroy their own habitat. Logging was banned in Thailand in 1989, but by then the damage had been done. In 1900, Thailand had around 90% forest cover. By 1989, only 28% of the country’s forests remained, according to FAO. This habitat loss and the fragmented nature of the remaining forests are among the biggest threats to the survival of the Asian elephant.

The banning of logging and the rise of modern transportation left many traditional elephant keepers, known as mahouts, and their elephants without the income required for their care. As a result, many turned to the tourism trade for income. Elephant tourism proved to be hugely popular, and despite ongoing concerns around the welfare of the animals, is still on the rise. A two-year study published in 2017 by World Animal Protection found that since 2010, there has been a 30% increase in the number of elephants living in captivity at tourism venues in Thailand.

Riding elephants in Thailand
Riding elephants in Thailand is unethical. The systematic abuse of captive elephants in order to “train” them to carry tourists is common. Plus, the elephants have to endure long working days, limited food, and unnatural environments, such as hours spent standing on concrete.
More and more tourists wishing to travel in an ethical and sustainable way are shunning the practice.
However, boycotting elephant tourism altogether might not be the answer. The situation is complex and requires solutions that take into account the well-being of both the elephants and their mahouts.

Today, tourism is the only viable source of income for mahouts and their elephants. Elephants need to eat around 250 kilograms of food per day, which can cost their owners around $1,000 a month. The tourism industry helps to raise the funds needed to care for the gigantic animals and provide a livelihood for mahouts and their families.
It’s clear that the tourism model needs to change, but it also needs to exist in some form to ensure the elephants currently living in captivity are taken care of.

Elephant sanctuaries are becoming more popular, offering tourists the chance to feed or bathe elephants, instead of riding them. However, these sanctuaries still involve unnatural behaviour and a high level of interaction between people and elephants. GVI’s Chiang Mai elephant project is pioneering a new approach to elephant tourism. Our project limits interaction to the minimum required, while still supporting the elephants and their mahouts, and giving volunteers an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Wildlife in Thailand: Malaysian Sun Bear

Malaysian sun Bear
Malaysian sun bear. Image via Unsplash

The Malaysian sun bear can be clearly distinguished from other bears by a white or yellowish patch on the chest. They form a small part of Wildlife in Thailand but are certainly special as they are rare and unique. Sun bears are excellent climbers and spend considerable amounts of time in trees. They feed on sweet fruits, small rodents, birds, termites, and insects. They can be considered relatively small as they are merely 120-150clongth and can weigh only 35-80 kg.

The Sun Bear was formerly widespread in the lowland forests of South East Asia. However, it has mostly disappeared from most of its former range in recent decades. Nevertheless, Sun Bear is still widespread in a few protected areas in Camboda ‘s Mondolkiri province and Virachey National Park. It is thought that the population fell by more than 30% in the last 30 years. Can you think of any reasons for this?

Malaysian sun Bear
Malaysian sun bear in grass. Image by Darren welsh via Unsplash

There are several threats to these gorgeous Malaysian Sun Bears… Like other bears in Asia, Sun bears are hunted for their gallbladders and other body parts for medicinal uses thascientist have proven to have no medical value at all. This can hopefully change in years to come with more education to individuals about the lack of medicinal properties this poor innocent animal contains. Female nursing sun bears are sometimes killed, and their cubs are captured to be sold in the pet trade. This a significant issue not exclusive to Wildlife in Thailand but, sadly, globally.
And Habitat destruction caused by clearance for plantation development and illegal logging is another major threat to this species’s small remaining critical population.

These are only a fetragedies facingce Wildlife in Thailand today.

Wildlife in Thailand: Gibbons

Gibbons
Gibbons spotted. Image via Unsplash

Gibbon (family Hylobatidae) is any of approximately 20 species of small apes found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. Gibbons, like the great apes (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos), have a humanlike build and no tail (like for balance). Still, gibbons seem to lack higher cognitive abilities and self-awareness.

They also differ from great apes in having considerably longer arms, dense hair, and a throat sac for amplifying sounds. Gibbon’s voices are loude musical in tone, and carry over long distances. The most characteristic vocalization is the “great call,” usually a duet in which the female leads and the male joins in with less-complex notes, used as a territorial marker by both sexes.

Gibbons
Sleeping Gibbon . Image via Unsplash

Gibbons are arboreal and move from branch to branch with speed and great agility by swinging from their arms (brachiating). On the ground, gibbons walk erect with their arms held aloft or behind. They are active during the day and live in small monogamous groups that defend territories in the treetops. They feed mainly on fruit, with varying proportions of leaves and with some insects, bird eggs, and young birds. Single offspring are born after about seven months’ gestation and take seven years to mature.

Most gibbon species are about 40–65 cm (16–26 inches) in head and body length. The smaller species (both sexes) weigh about 5.5 kg (12 pounds); others, such as the concolor gibbon, weigh about 7.5 kg (17 pounds). The female siamang weighs 10.5 kg (23 pounds) and the male 12 kg (26 pounds); the siamang is the only gibbon with a significant size difference between the sexes.

Gibbons
Gibbons sitting on tree branch. Image by jozsef hocza via Unsplash

Gibbons are still widely distributed iSoutheast Asia’she rainforests and monsoon foresia, but they are more and more under threat as their forest habitat is destroyed. They are sometimes hunted for food, but they are often, killed for their supposed medicinal properties; their long arm bones are especially prized.

Animals in Thailand: Indochinese leopard

Indochinese Leopard
Leopard relaxing. Image by Joshua J cotton via Unsplash

In Thailand, the Indochinese leopard is present in the Western Forest Complex, Kaeng Krachan-Kui Bu,ri and Khlong Saeng-Khao Sok protected area complexes. But since the turn of the 21st century, it has not been recorded anymore in the country’s northern and south-central forest complexes.

The leopard’s remarkable success in the wild can be attributed to a combination of key traits and abilities. Its well-camouflaged fur allows it to blend seamlessly into its surroundings, making it a stealthy predator. It’s an opportunistic hunter with a diverse diet, capable of taking down a wide range of prey. Its strength enables it to hoist heavy carcasses into trees to keep them safe from scavengers.

Indochinese Leopard
Leopard resting by a tree. Image via Himesh Kumar Behera thehopefultraveller, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This adaptable big cat can thrive in a variety of habitats, from lush rainforests to open steppe lands, arid deserts, and even rugged mountain areas. In addition to its agility, it possesses remarkable speed, allowing it to sprint at impressive rates.

Leopards exhibit a striking range of coat colors and rosette patterns. Their coat can span from pale yellow to deep gold or tawny, adorned with black rosettes. The head, lower limbs, and belly are adorned with solid black spots. These coat colors and patterns are closely linked to their specific habitats. In East Africa, their rosettes tend to be circular, whereas in southern Africa, they appear more square, and in Asian populations, they tend to be larger.

Their adaptability is further showcased in their coat variations across different environments. In desert regions, their fur tends to be lighter, almost cream-colored. In colder climates, their coats take on a grayer hue, while in lush rainforests, they adopt a richer, darker golden tone.

Their underbelly fur is both softer and lighter in color compared to the rest of their coat. Instead of open rosettes, you’ll find solid black spots on their face, limbs, and underbelly, adding to the intriguing mosaic of their appearance.

Indochinese Leopard
Brown and black leopard in close up photo. Image by Mike van den bos via Unsplash

Leopards are versatile, opportunistic hunters and have a comprehensive diet. They feed on a greater diversity of prey than other members of the Panthera genus and are reported to eat anything from dung beetles to common elands. However, medium-sized prey species in the 20-80 kg range are usually taken. The largest prey written killed by a leopard was a 900 kg male eland. Although leopards generally do not prey on such large animals.

Their diet consists mainly of ungulates, followed by primates, primarily monkeys of various species, including the Vervet monkey. However, they will also opportunistically eat rodents, reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds (especially ground-based types like the vulturine guineafowl), fish, and sometimes smaller predators (such as foxes, jackals, martens, and smaller felid species).

Summary of Animals and Wildlife in Thailand

YouTube video
Khao Yai, Thailand best jungle safari for elephants, gibbons & bats!, Source: YouTube, Uploaded: Wout of the world

What have you found interesting about the wildlife of Thailand? Is Thailand somewhere you’re interested in traveling to soon?

If you enjoyed this blog, you might like other blogs from Animals Around the Globe! Like Top 10 Pet Animals in India or Wildlife in Asia.

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