Wildlife in Thailand

Thailand, a popular and stunning beach destination in the South East of Asia. This country, rich in culture and beauty also is home to the most amazing wildlife. We are going to pin point and discover but a few of these amazing animals.

Thailand Scenery


Thailand is home to more than 10% of the animals around the globe. There are more than 285 mammal species including elephants, tigers, leopards, Malaysian sun bears, sambars, deer and otters as well as a variety of primate species including gibbons, monkeys and macaques. Sheep, goats, wild cattle and wild hogs are also common on this fantastic set of islands.

Here are a few animals which we’ll discuss, you can navigate through the blog according to these headings or enjoy the blog in its entirety!

Elephants

Malaysian Sun bears

Gibbons

Indochinese leopard

Wildlife in Thailand: Elephants


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 up 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 is captive elephants, and 60% of those are used for tourism.

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

Asian Elephant


The elephants found in Thailand are in fact Indian elephants, a subspecies of the Asian elephant. Wild elephants were once plentiful in Thailand. In 1900, approximately 100,000 elephants were estimated to be in the country, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.
Today, only between 3,000 and 4,000 elephants remain in Thailand. Almost half of which live in captivity and in extremely cruel living conditions. Asian elephants are now classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


The Roles of Elephants in the past

These giant animals have 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.


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.

Indian Elephant


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 wellbeing 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 in forest


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


The Malaysian sun bear can be clearly distinguished from other bears by a white or yellowish patch on the chest. The form a small part of Wildlife in Thailand but certainly are special as they are so 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 other insects. They can be considered relatively small as they are merely 120-150cm in length and can weigh only 35-80 kg.

Malaysian sun Bear


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

Malaysian sun Bear


There are several threats to these gorgeous Malaysian Sun Bears… Like other bears in Asia, Sun bears are hunted for their gall bladders and other body parts for medicinal uses that have been proven by scientist 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 these poor innocent animal contains. Female nursing sun bears are sometimes killed and their cubs are captured to be sold in the pet trade. A major issue not exclusive to Wildlife in Thailand but sadly globally.
And Habitat destruction caused by clearance for plantation development and illegal logging is also another major threat to the small remaining critical population of this species.

These are only a few of the tragedies which face Wildlife in Thailand today.

Wildlife in Thailand: Gibbons

Gibbons


Gibbon, (family Hylobatidae), 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), but 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 used for amplifying sounds. Gibbon voices are loud, are 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


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 the 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 and bird eggs as well as 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 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 are still widely distributed in the rainforests and monsoon forests of Southeast Asia, but they are more and more under threat as their forest habitat is destroyed. They are sometimes hunted for food, but more often they are killed for their supposed medicinal properties; their long arm bones are especially prized.


Wildlife in Thailand: Indochinese leopard

Indochinese Leopard


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

The leopard’s success in the wild is due to its well camouflaged fur, its opportunistic hunting behavior, broad diet and strength to move heavy carcass into trees, its ability to adapt to various habitats ranging from rainforest, steppe to arid and montane areas and to run at speeds up to .

Leopards show a great diversity in coat color and rosettes patterns. In general, the coat color varies from pale yellow to deep gold or tawny, and is patterned with black rosettes. The head, lower limbs and belly are spotted with solid black. Coat color and patterning are broadly associated with habitat type. Their rosettes are circular in East Africa but tend to be squarer in southern Africa and larger in Asian populations. Their yellow coat tends to be more pale and cream colored in desert populations, more gray in colder climates, and of a darker golden hue in rainforest habitats. Overall, the fur under the belly tends to be lighter coloured and of a softer, downy type. Solid black spots in place of open rosettes are generally seen along the face, limbs and underbelly.

Indochinese Leopard



Leopards are versatile, opportunistic hunters, and have a very broad 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, though medium-sized prey species in the 20-80 kg range are usually taken. The largest prey reported killed by a leopard was a 900 kg male eland. although leopards generally do not prey on such large animals. Their diet consists mostly 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).

Indochinese Leopard

Summary:

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! Bears around the Globe , explore the Azores and much more!

If you find yourself in Thailand consider visiting:

Elephant Refuge

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT)