Taking a walk on a decreasing wild side | Bangkok Post: lifestyle

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Taking a walk on a decreasing wild side

Wildlife has paid a heavy price in the name of progress

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If you ask elderly people to describe what Thailand was like about 60 years ago, they would almost certainly recall vast tracts of pristine forest and an abundance of wild animals. 

Nowadays, this lush forest and wide array of wildlife appears to only exist in Petch Phra Uma, a popular adventure novel about a hunter in a thick jungle written by Phanom Thien.

The populations of many wildlife species have shrunk to near extinction, while some have not been seen in their natural habitat for several decades.

Hunting wild animals, logging, depletion of forest for infrastructure projects, cultivation and residential areas are the major causes of disappearing wildlife in Thailand.

In 1992, 15 animal species were listed as "reserved animals" which are rare and near-extinct animals under the Wildlife Protection and Preservation Act.

They are the white-eyed river martin; Javan rhino; Sumatran rhino; kouprey; wild water buffalo; brown-antlered deer and schomburgk's deer. Also included are the scrow; goral; black-breasted pitta; east sarus crane; marbled cat; Malayan tapir; Fea's barking deer; and the dugong.

While the numbers of some of these species have increased due to successful breeding programmes, others have not been seen in their natural habitat for a very long time and are believed to be extinct.

Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinusr sumatrensisare) and kouprey (Bos sauveli) are among these animals believed to be no longer roaming Thai forests.

The Sumatran rhinoceros, or krasu, is native to South and Southeast Asian countries including India, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. It is considered the smallest rhinoceros in the world, weighing about 500 kilogrammes and is usually 120 centimetres tall.

The animal was heavily hunted for their horns, which were sold as traditional medicine. Now, it is believed that there are less than 300 Sumatran rhinos in the wild and can only be found in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the species as "critically endangered".

The rhinos used to live in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province, Hala Bala forest complex in Narathiwat, and Thung Yai Naresaun wildlife sanctuary in Kanchanaburi. The last sighting of a krasu was reported 30 years ago in Hala Bala forest.

The Malaysian government gave one Sumatran rhino to Dusit Zoo as a gift 20 years ago, but it has since died. It was stuffed and is now on display at the zoo.

The kouprey is another species that has vanished from Thailand. Like the Sumatran rhino, the IUCN has classified this species as critically endangered.

"The total population is unknown and the species is most likely extinct," the IUCN reports.

A kouprey is a wild ox once found in Cambodia, southern Laos, western Vietnam and in the southeast of Thailand. It is about two metres in height and weighs about 700kg.

Hunting them for local consumption or to trade their meat and body parts, especially the horns and skull, are the major threats to the animal's survival, according to the IUCN.

Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, deputy chief of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, said as well as these two species, the scrow and goral are also at risk of extinction in Thailand due to habitat loss, especially because of mining and quarrying activities.

Goral, or Kwang Pha, live in mountainous areas in Mae Ping National Park and Om Koi Wildlife Sanctuary in Chiang Mai province.

The department and the Zoological Park Organisation had unsuccessfully tried breeding the Sumatran rhino and kouprey in captivity in a bid to reintroduce them to the wild to prevent them from disappearing from our forests forever.

"Losing these two animals from our forests was a huge loss for Thailand," Mr Theerapat said. "We failed to save them and we have no chance of returning them back to the wild. They now live only in our memory," he said.

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