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Thailand's Threatened Wildlife
August 1999

AS THAILAND'S development continues apace, with more farmland needed each year to feed the people, and land and forest resources exploited to fuel the demands of industry for natural raw materials, so does the pressure increase on this amazing country's formerly abundant wildlife. Often it is the large herbivorous mammals that suffer most from erosion of their habitat, for their size means that they must eat a great deal of vegetation each day. Also many of the great herbivores are lowland dwellers, and the destruction of wild grasslands and lowland forests has been far more extensive than the depredation of the upland woods.

Although the rhinoceros family was widespread in older geological times, only five species now exist: three in Asia and the Malay Archipelago, and two in tropical Africa. The former are characterized by incisors and canine teeth, both of which are lacking in the African species, as well as the armor-plate arrangement of the skin. Two species of Rhinoceros, the Javan and the Sumatran, and the Malayan Tapir all have somewhat different habitat demands, but all are either gone from Thailand, or exist as very small populations.

The Javan Rhinoceros, or Lesser One-horned Rhinoceros, Rhinoceros sondaicus, is by far the larger of the two species recorded from Thailand. Once the Javan Rhinoceros ranged the hilly tropical forests of Bengal, Burma, Borneo and Sumatra. It is a creature of the lowlands, and not surprisingly it has disappeared from Thailand along with its habitat. A huge, ponderous animal, it was always conspicuous wherever it was found, and is found in many place names especially along the western fringes. Its Thai name is Raed, and a Raed is often used to make a comparison with a woman who sexually entices, but in fact the Javan Rhinoceros is a placid animal. This huge creature is shortsighted and should it become frightened or feel threatened, it runs wild destroying its surroundings. They have a well-developed auditory nerve, long face, thick skin and short strong legs. Living deep in the forest with tall trees hiding them, they usually leave the forest at night to drink at a water hole.

Of course rhinoceroses have been under far greater threat than other animals because of the ridiculous belief in the aphrodisiac potency of their horns. These lumps of compressed hair have caused drastic declines in the world's rhinoceros populations through poaching. Few Javan rhinos are left in Southeast Asia, in western Java itself and also in Vietnam, but they have long gone from Thailand with nothing but a mango, also called Raed because of its horn shape, as a memento of its passing.

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