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Thailand's Threatened Wildlife (September 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 much smaller Sumatran or Asian Two-horned Rhinoceros, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, is a truly mysterious creature, living in dense precipitous mountain forests, and rarely seen. Most people believe it to be ferocious but in reality it is a vegetarian and seeks isolation except in breeding time. However if necessary to protect itself, it doesn't hesitate to use its two-horned proboscis against any enemy. It is a surprisingly hairy creature with a thick pelt covering its leathery skin. Because of the rugged country it inhabits, it is safer from poachers than its Javan relative, and the difficult terrain discourages loggers. Once the Sumatran Rhinoceros ranged the hilly tropical forests of Bengal, Burma, Borneo and Sumatra but has been widely eliminated from that range.

It is known to exist in many of the forested areas of Thailand, but only in very small numbers, and it is a seriously endangered species wherever it is found. Sadly, few of its remaining ranges are large enough to support a viable breeding population, with the possible exception of the great Gaeng Grajaan National Park bordering Burma in Petchburi Province.

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