The human race stands at the brink of an epic statistical milestone. The UN has set October 31 of this year as the date the human population is expected to surpass seven billion people. As our numbers swell, the wild animals that we treat like awkward guests have ever less legroom.
Take a look at some Asian survival outposts – conservation zones where animals take precedence over people. The line-up runs the gamut from mouse hares to mighty Komodo dragons.
1. Langkawi jungle tour, Malaysia
This tour is run by the charismatic Dev Mahendra, a Malaysian naturalist in the mold of Irshad Mobarak [www.junglewalla.com], the “junglewallah” who similarly heads wildlife tours on that Malaysian island Eden, Langkawi. On Mahendra’s jungle tour, you have a good chance of seeing flying lemurs flying squirrel species. On Mahendra’s bird-watching tour, you may see one of Asia’s most striking birds, the pterodactyl-like giant hornbill. Another option Mahendra offers is a nooks-and-crannies mangrove kayak jaunt starring eagles and monitor lizards.
2. Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
A highlight of lush, luxuriant Thailand, Khao Yai National Park [www.khaoyai.com] lies three hours northeast of Bangkok in the Sankambeng Mountains. Thailand’s second-largest park after Kaeng Krachan in Phetchaburi province, Khao Yai consists of damp evergreen forest, mixed deciduous forest, and dry evergreen forest. The park contains more than 350 bird species, and a wide spectrum of animals. On this Khao Yai wilderness adventure, you might just see elephants, great hornbills, and Asiatic black bears, among other show-stoppers. A sidelight – Heo Suwat waterfall – was featured in the cult backpacker film The Beach. Several other waterfalls also enter the picture. Oh, and – off-track – for adventurers who go out on a limb, Khao Yai even has a dinosaur footprint, though you will have to trek a few days to get to it.
3. Snow Leopard
Ladakh, the mystical Himalayan land of High Passes, hosts Hemis National Park: a 600 square-kilometer high-altitude protected zone founded in 1981 in the east of the desert. Inside Hemis, you can see one of the world’s most glamorous animals, the snow leopard, which is prone to making cameo appearances between November and March. In the park, you may also glimpse the wild horse and musk deer. Then there are marmots, mouse hares, stone martens, red foxes, golden orioles and more. Hemis offers extraordinary diversity – a riotous rainbow of species.
4. Wild Panda
Everybody’s favorite mournful-looking animal is not entirely confined to the zoo. Venture deep into wild China and if you're lucky you might come face to face with a feral panda. Like orangutans, pandas are elusive and alert. If a panda catches your scent, it may bolt for cover. Still, even spotting panda prints or detecting a specimen on GPS is a coup. In pursuit of wild pandas and other intriguing animals, this tour takes you to the Tangjiahe Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province, then Foping Nature Reserve in Shanxi province.
Fewer than 5,000 komodo dragons survive, making the species vulnerable to extinction. The dragon, a kind of Indonesian monitor lizard, claws on to four islands across the water from Bali: Komodo, Rinca, Padar, and Flores. Few other animals have more wow factor. The world's largest living reptile, it can sprint and climb trees. Thanks to its massive green body and long flickering tongue, it may well have been responsible for classical fire-spitting dragon myths. Atop its head, it has a light-sensing ‘third eye’.
For more information on endangered Asian animals, go here www.vtaide.com/png/endangeredA.htm