Laos - Wealth in Wild Animals and Plants

The Xai Phou Luang (Annamite Mountains) between Laos and Vietnam host a mysterious animal that only a few people in the Western World have ever heard of. Sometimes called the Asian unicorn, the antelope-like animal named Saola is the world’s rarest mammal. In 1992, the Saola was discovered by a group of scientists who were conducting a biological survey of a nature reserve in Vietnam. When a camera trap photographed a Saola in 2013, this was the first documented sighting of a wild Saola after almost 14 years.


Unfortunately, the Saola is likely to become extinct in the next few years if no protection measures are undertaken. Major threats to the Saola are illegal hunting and the fragmentation of their habitat as a result of rapid infrastructure development.


It would be a tragedy if the Saola becomes extinct in the wild, because since its discovery 25 years ago, the small mammal remains a mystery. These animals have only rarely been seen and only a few photographs exist. Furthermore, the Saola is difficult to keep alive in captivity and this is why none lives in a zoo anywhere in the world. The story of the Saola shows what a rich and exceptional wildlife Laos has to offer and it also brings home the message that wildlife is exposed to many kinds of threats.

The Promotion of Climate-related Environmental Education (ProCEEd) project, which is implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has worked out a '10 FACTs on Wildlife in Laos' publication to raise awareness about the importance of wildlife conservation in the country. The Lao-German project has been using these facts for a wide range of interactive environmental education activities, e.g. regular environmental tours by bus and truck to more than 60 remote villages in Khammouane, Houaphan and Sayaboury.


This article is part of a mini-series based on the ten facts which will cover a wide range of topics such as types of and threats to wildlife, illegal wildlife trade, hunting laws and things readers can do to protect wildlife. This first of five articles focuses on what wildlife means and the variety of habitats for wild animals and plants.


Wildlife means non-domesticated animals and plants


What does the term wildlife actually mean? The term wildlife includes all animals and plants that are not domesticated. All animal species are wildlife, whether mammals such as tigers and monkeys or reptiles, birds, aquatic animals, amphibians, insects and spiders. Moreover, plants like trees, mushrooms and all other living organisms are wildlife, too. Unlike cows, chicken, pigs, horses or goats, these species were not domesticated by humans. Dogs were the very first domesticated animal, bred for protection, herding and hunting. The muscular strength of buffalos helps farmers plow fields, and chicken provide eggs and meat.


Wildlife can be found in all types of ecosystems. The word ecosystem is made up of the words ecological system. An ecosystem consists of living organisms such as animals, plants and small life forms, e.g. bacteria. These organisms interact with each other and with non-living components. The latter are chemical and physical parts of the environment that affect living organisms, e.g. water, soil, sunlight, radiation, temperature, humidity and the earth’s atmosphere.


Wildlife-friendly ecosystems that many people know are grasslands, forests or lakes and rivers. But wildlife exists even in the harshest environments such as the icy wastes of the polar regions, the hottest deserts or the deepest part of the ocean.


Laos offers habitats for a variety of wild animals and plants


Wildlife in Laos and Vietnam is special because many animal species are endemic to these two countries. Endemic means native. Therefore, endemic indicates that a species is unique to a defined geographic place. The Saola is a good example as it only lives in the Annamite Mountains and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Other endemic animals in Laos and Vietnam are the giant flying squirrel and the Laotian rock rat.


More than 247 species of mammals, among them 90 bat species, an estimated 166 species of reptiles and amphibians and approximately 700 bird species can be found in Laos. And the Mekong and its tributaries provide a home for about 500 fish species. Furthermore, the largest remaining population of wild Asian elephants in Indochina lives in Laos, mainly the Khammouane, Bolikhamxay and Xayaboury provinces.


Tropical rainforests in particular offer a stunningly diverse wildlife as a lot of animals and plants find a niche in this multi-faceted ecosystem. "There are so many precious wood species in the Laotian tropical rain forests - Asian Rosewood, teak and many different species of bamboo", says Franziska Müller, an intern with ProCEEd, "When you go hiking cross-country, flowering plants like plumeria and orchids, a big array of fruit trees and rattan palms can be found all over Laos".




Print   Email