Culture

8 Endangered Species in Asia You Should Know

May 21 is Endangered Species Day. Here are 8 amazing animals native to Asia that you can help save with your tourism dollars.

By Marco Ferrarese
Photographed by Kit Yeng Chan

May 21, 2021

TAKE A VIRTUAL SPIN AROUND ASIA with us to discover some of the most endangered species in the region, and the small but substantial organizations that are trying to help them.  

Cambodian Elephants

Limited habitat and small herds have contributed to number of Cambodian elephants dwindling.

Airavata foundation near Banlung in remote Ratanakiri rehabilitated four elephants from different parts of the Kingdom. Their conservation project in a reserve near the O’Katieng waterfall teaches guests the traditional ways the Khmer used to interact with these pachyderms. Pair a visit with a stay at Terres Rouges (from US$50), the former residence of Banlung’s governor, also run by Airavata’s founding Frenchman Pierre Yves Clais.

Orangutans

The great apes of Indonesia and Malaysia survive in small numbers — there are only about 105,000 in Borneo and 7,500 in Sumatra. Loss of habitat due to the planting of palm-oil plantations and human settlement are the species’s main concern.

Projects like Bukit Piton (daytrip from Lahad Datu for RM650; two-day/one-night all-inclusive trip RM850), which is using tourism to fund the planting of new trees in a degraded forest that once was a WWF project site near Lahad Datu in Sabah, are helping the Borneo orangutan enjoy new pockets of protected natural habitat. 

Malayan Sunbears

The world’s smallest and most endangered bear dwells in the forests of Southeast Asia. With a characteristic bib-shaped golden patch across its chest, the sunbear is vulnerable because of habitat loss and poaching — some groups even consider it a culinary delicacy.

The best way to see and support sunbears is by visiting the Borneo Sunbear Conservation Center opened in 2008 in Sepilok, near Sandakan in Sabah. The center accepts donations, offers bear adoptions, and is open to paid volunteer internships. All profits go towards the resident bears’ conservation.

Sunda Pangolins

Pangolins are the most critically endangered species on this list. Mostly fueled by high demand in the Chinese traditional medicine market, the smuggling of pangolin scales and skin is a sad affair all over Southeast Asia and beyond.

There are a few ways you can help: Save Vietnam Wildlife accepts donations and organizes volunteering opportunities at their center in Ninh Binh, near Hanoi.

1StopBorneo Wildlife is kickstarting a new tourism project in Islamabad, Pakistan, to monitor local pangolins and support research costs.

Save Pangolins works in Africa and Asia, and accepts donations to fund their programs.

Pandas

The pandas of southwest China are mainly endangered due to habitat loss, because development cleared much of the bamboo forests they need to survive. Poaching is also an issue, since panda skins and pelts are valuable on the black market. In 2020, the WWF estimated there are as few as 1,864 pandas left in the wild and about 400 in captivity.

The main place to see them is the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Ya’An, southwest of Chengdu. Entry tickets fund the research, and the center is also recommended for paid volunteering opportunities.

Bengal and Malayan Tigers

Only an estimated 3,900 tigers still roam the wild in Asia, but in much of Southeast Asia, their situation is critical.

In India, the Corbett Foundation works on widlife conservation and public awareness in Corbett and Bandavgarh National Parks, and in the plains of Assam. Safaris and luxury resorts around the parks also help fund research and conservation.

In Malaysia, My Cat organizes a “cat walk” (two-day/two-night trip, RM250 for Malaysians and RM500 for foreigners) in Merapoh along Sungai Yu, the last forest corridor connecting the rainforest of Taman Negara to the Titiwangsa mountain range. Guests walk with aboriginal guides to learn about conservation first-hand: don’t expect to see any tigers, but instead to help disarm deadly poachers’ traps as you learn about the plight of the critically endangered Malayan tiger.

Snow Leopards 

The Snow Leopard Trust estimates there are only between 3,900 and 6,400 snow leopards left across the 12 Asian countries that have them (India, the Tibetan Plateau in China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, among others).

But between 220 and 450 snow leopards are killed every year as they resort to prey on domestic livestock after climate change forced shifts in their fragile ecosystem’s food chain. 

Sustainable tourism is key to their conservation: operators like Voygr run 10-days luxe leopard-spotting tours in the Hemis National Park of Ladakh (all-inclusive from US$4,115 per person) and Kyrgyzstan. The tours give jobs to locals and fund the High Asia Habitat Fund to train rangers throughout Central Asia and improve human-wildlife conflict.

Tarsiers 

Scientists are still debating on the twenty-odd species of Tarsier, one of the world’s smallest and strangest-looking primates, which is only found in the islands of Southeast Asia.

The Philippine Tarsier Foundation in Bohol helps run the Loboc Sanctuary, but there have been debates about how much access tourists have to the shy and stressed animals there.

A better reserve to see the tarsier in the wild is Tangkoko National Park near Manado in North Sulawesi,  Indonesia. The nearby Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Center also protects the tarsier and a number of other endangered species rescued in Sulawesi while they are trafficked throughout the archipelago.

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