South and Southeast Asia are brimming with huge varieties of exciting tropical wildlife. We all know India for tigers, Sri Lanka for elephants. But what about those rarer species that don’t get much airtime? Those lesser-visited pockets of Asia with rich, unexpected biodiversity?
Put your Attenborough hat on as we take you through our favourite Asian animals you didn’t know existed.
1. Tarsius Tarsier
Tarsiers are tiny primates of the haplorhini, or ‘dry-nosed’, suborder. Once widespread across Europe, North Africa and Asia, these bug-eyed beauties are now dotted sporadically around Southeast Asia, with the Tarsius variety located only on certain Indonesian islands.
Our CEO Sam was recently lucky enough to come into close contact with a Tarsier on a trip to Sulawesi. He said of the encounter, “This cute yoda-like creature inhabits various trees in Tangkoko National Park and they stand guard all day until it is time to venture out hunting. Behind the cute veneer, a ruthless killer apparently lurks!”
Also known as a scaly anteater, the pangolin is an endangered mammal found in Asia and Africa. Strikingly unusual to look at, pangolins walk on their hind legs with front claws curled out in front, and possess a thick, scaly skin that’s supposedly hard enough to endure an axe blow. Yet behind this tough exterior lies a shy countenance and a disarmingly cute expression – and, as the most poached animals in the world, their cowed demeanour is quite justified.
3. Sun Bear
Sun bears can be found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. The smallest member of the bear family, they are between four to five foot in length and are sometimes known as ‘dog bears’. They get their name from the golden patch on their chest that, according to legend, reflects the rising sun.
4. Proboscis monkey
The somewhat obscene looking Proboscis is an arboreal monkey endemic to Borneo. Scientists believe that the males’ distinctive outsized noses evolved to help attract mates, as the organ hangs over the mouth to echo and amplify their call. You can spot these cheeky fellas in national parks across Borneo.
Insider tip: those found in the impressive landscape of Bako National Park are well-accustomed to gaping humans and can come remarkably close.
Known as ‘the angel of the sea’, the Dugong is gentle marine giant closely related to a manatee. They are herbivores who feed on underwater grasses and can be in the warm Indian Ocean. Intrepid travellers can scuba dive alongside the peaceful creatures in the Andamans, Gulf of Munnar or the Gulf of Kutch.
6. Rusty-spotted cat
Did you know that the world’s smallest cat lives in the forests of Sri Lanka? A fully-grown Rusty-spotted cat would still fit in the palm of your hand. They are solitary, curious creatures who, unlike their domestic counterparts, are comfortable in water – as this BBC video shows…
7. Clouded leopard
Exceptionally solitary and exceedingly beautiful, the clouded leopard that lives in the Himalayan foothills, Southeast Asia and China. They tend to live amongst trees and are famously shy, so spotting one in the wild is a rarity. They are, however, known to roam areas such as the Nam Et National Park in Laos and Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh – maybe you could get lucky?
8. Lion-tailed macaque
The striking-looking Lion-tailed macaque is a rare monkey found in the mountains of the Western Ghats, India. It’s one of the most endangered species in the world and cannot live in captivity, being so well-adapted to its home in the forest.
Have you heard of the Asian unicorn? So-called due to its rarity and unique backwards-curving horns, the saola is a critically endangered species that dwells exclusively in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos. Last summer, scientists announced plans to launch a captive breeding programme to save the saola, which otherwise could become extinct in 10-15 years.
10. Draco Lizard
Draco Lizards are flying dragons endemic to the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. The fascinating creatures are famous for their ability to fly thanks to an extendable wing-like flap of skin.