Wildlife of Malaysia
The Wildlife of Malaysia are some of the most diverse on earth, with Malaysia being a Megadiverse country. The majority of the country is covered in rainforest, which hosts a huge diversity of plant and animal species. There are approximately 210 mammal species, 620 bird species, 250 reptile species, and 150 frog species found in Malaysia. Its large marine territory also holds a great diversity of life, with the country's coastal waters comprising part of the Coral Triangle.
Malaysia is estimated to contain 20% of the world's animal species, and includes some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet.
There are about 210 mammal species in Malaysia. Peninsular Malaysia holds three big cats: the Indochinese tiger the leopard and also the clouded leopard. Another major predator is the sunbear. Large prey exists, such as the Sumatran rhinoceros, the Malayan tapir, mouse deer, barking deer, sambar deer, wild boar, and Bornean bearded pigs.
Gaurs and Asian elephants can also be found. Lowland animals such as these also can be found at higher altitudes, along with animals specialised for mountain living, such as siamang gibbons, red squirrels, and lesser moon rats. East Malaysia lacks the tigers of the Peninsular, leaving clouded leopards, sunbears, and Sunda otter civets as the primary predators. Rhinoceroses and elephants are also found there, along with Bornean orangutans, Mueller's gibbons, macaques, proboscis monkeys, silvered leaf monkeys, langurs, and slow lorises.
High levels of endemism are found on the diverse forests of Borneo's mountains, as species are isolated from each other by lowland forest. Kinabalu ferret-badgers, Kinabalu black shrews, Hose's palm civets, and Brooke's tree squirrels are all endemic to the mountains. Other small mammals include mongooses and giant rats. 11,300 orangutans are found in East Malaysia. Other ape species include the white-handed gibbon and the siamang. Malaysia has 10 monkey species, divided between langurs and macaques. Proboscis monkeys, the world's largest monkey, are a langur species endemic to Borneo. Macaque species include the crab-eating macaque and the pig-tailed macaque.
The Malayan tiger, a subspecies of the Indochinese tiger, is endemic to the Malay peninsula with a remaining population of about 500. Small cats such as the bay cat and various civet cats are also found. 1200 Asian elephants exist on the Peninsular, with another population existing in East Malaysia. The world's largest cattle species, the seladang, is found in Malaysia. Fruit bats are also found throughout the country, with a high concentration in the Mulu Caves.
Over 620 species of birds have been recorded just on the Peninsular. Many are endemic to the mountains of the Peninsular, such as the crested argus. Bornean forests show high levels of endemism among bird species, with 38 species found nowhere else. Black-browed babblers and white-crowned shamas are found only in these forests. Large numbers of hornbills, woodpeckers, and pittas such as the mangrove pitta are also present.
Other species are found isolated on mountains, such as golden-naped barbets, spot-necked bulbuls, and mountain serpent-eagles. Bulbuls, starlings, and house swifts can be found in urban areas. Crested serpent-eagles and kingfishers can be found. There are nine species of hornbill in Malaysia, the most common of which is the pied hornbill. At 1.5 metres (5 ft) from head to tail is the largest hornbill, the great hornbill, followed closely in size by the rhinoceros hornbill of Borneo. The fish eagle and brahminy kite are the most common birds of prey. Storm's stork and the Oriental darter can be found in wetlands.
250 reptile species have been recorded, with about 150 species of snakes and 80 species of lizards. Only 16 of the land snakes are venomous. Notable among these are the Malayan pit viper, king cobras, Dumeril's monitors, Malay water monitors, and estuarine crocodiles. The king cobra is the deadliest snake found, but it is rarely encountered. The reticulated python is said to grow up to 10 metres (33 ft) in length. Monitor lizards, almost 2 metres (7 ft) in length, are found in both halves of the country.
Other snake species include the paradise tree snake and Wagler's pit viper. Estuarine crocodiles can grow up to 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) in length. Its smaller relative, the Malayan false gharial, can also be found. Flying lizards can also be found. There are about 150 species of frog in Malaysia. Freshwater fish include the rare Asian arawana, along with marbled gobys, harlequins, and tiger barbs.
Malaysia has thousands of insect species, with more being discovered every year. Butterfly species include Rajah Brooke's birdwing, while moth species include the Atlas moth. The largest beetle found is the rhinoceros beetle. Other large insects include the giant stick insect, which can grow as long as a human forearm, the empress cicada, with a wingspan of 30 centimetres (12 in), and the 4 centimetres (2 in) long giant ant. Other insects include banded hornets, fire ants, giant honey bees, and weaver ants. Many scorpions can also be found.
About two thirds of Malaysia is covered in forest which is believed to be 130 million years old. It is composed of a variety of types, although they are mainly dipterocarp forests. Dipterocarps can grow to about 50 metres (164 ft) tall. Lowland forest occurs below 760 metres (2,493 ft), and formerly East Malaysia was covered in such rainforest, which is supported by its hot wet climate. There are around 14,500 species of flowering plants and trees.
Besides rainforests, there are over 1,425 square kilometres (550 sq mi) of mangroves in Malaysia, and a large amount of peat forest. Coastal land of the Peninsular is fringed by mangroves, which cause sediment build up resulting in peat bogs. These provide a base for plants that can tolerate the conditions. The peat forests of coastal Malaysia provide an important habitat for waterbirds and fish. The dipterocarps that occur in the peat forest obscure the ground, limiting ground vegetation. At higher altitudes, oaks, chestnuts, and rhododendrons replace dipterocarps.
There are an estimated 8,500 species of vascular plants in Peninsular Malaysia, with another 15,000 in the East. The forests of East Malaysia are estimated to be the habitat of around 2,000 tree species, and are one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, with 240 different species of trees every hectare. Further inland, heath forests are present. These forests host many members of the Rafflesia genus, the largest flowers in the world, with a maximum diameter of 1 metre (3 ft). They also contain large numbers of carnivorous plants, such as pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews, and ant-house plants.
Some parts of the forest have shown promise for use in medicine. In 1990 a stand of trees showed promise to be able to be used to stop the spread of a strain of Human Immunodeficiency Virus, but was cut down before more samples could be taken. Promise has been shown in fighting Malaria.
Malaysia's exclusive economic zone is 1.5 times larger than its land area, and some of its waters are in the Coral Triangle, a biodiversity hotspot. The waters around Sipadan island are the most biodiverse in the world. Bordering East Malaysia, the Sulu Sea is a biodiversity hotspot, with around 600 coral species and 1200 fish species. Five species of sea turtles inhabit the area, along with 20 species of sea snake. The dugong is found around Sabah and in the Strait of Johor.
Sharks present include whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, and reef sharks. Game fish such as the Blue marlin and tuna are often found, along with reef fish such as barracuda, bigeye trevally, bump-head parrotfish, garupas, and scorpion fish. Manta rays can be found.
Issues and response
With Malaysia's wildlife being some of the most diverse on earth, and it being a megadiverse country, the Malaysian government is interested in protecting it. The government aims to balance economic growth with environmental protection, but has been accused of favouring big business over the environment. Smoke haze from Indonesia occasionally causes problems further north, and fires caused from forest burning in 1997 obscured large parts of Southeast Asia and Australasia in smog.
At current rates of forest lost the rainforests will disappear within a generation. Over 80% of Sarawak has been cleared, and these clearing has caused animals traditionally in lowland forest to retreat into the upland rain forests inland. Logging, along with cultivation practices has devastated tree cover, causing severe environmental degradation in the country. Floods in East Malaysia have been worsened by the loss of trees, and over 60% of the Peninsular's forest have been cleared. With current rates of deforestation, the forests are predicted to be extinct by 2020.
Deforestation is a major problem for fauna such as tigers, as the forest is cut to make room for plantations, mostly for palm oil and other cash crops. The orangutan population has dropped 40% in the last 20 years. Hunting has also been an issue. Animals such as the Asian elephant have been forced out of their habitat due to its loss, often forcing them to starve. Once so common that complaints existed of them trampling peoples gardens, Sumatran rhinoceroses are likely to go extinct in Malaysia. Hornbills are steadily declining in numbers. Most remaining forest is found inside national parks.
Habitat destruction has proved a threat for marine life. Illegal fishing is another major threat, In Sabah alone, almost 3000 turtles are killed as by-catch per year. Illegal fishing methods such as dynamite fishing and poisoning have also depleted marine ecosystems. Leatherback turtle numbers have dropped 98% since the 1950s. Overconsumption and the use of animal parts for profit has also endangered marine life, as well as tigers, whose meat can be found in restaurants in Kuala Lumpur. Tigers received official protection in 1976, when they numbered a mere 300. Marine life is also detrimentally affected by uncontrolled tourism. Shoreline erosion in places has reached 10 metres (33 ft) a year.
Some state governments are now trying to counter the environmental impact and pollution created by deforestation; Sabah has developed sustainable forest reserves, and the government is trying to cut logging by 10% per year. 28 national parks have been created, the first in 1938 by the British. There are 23 on East Malaysia and 7 on the Peninsular. The Malaysian government is also trying to preserve marine life, creating a joint project with Indonesia and the Philippines to look after the Sulu Sea, as well as limiting tourism in areas such as Sipadan Island. Marine parks have banned fishing and motorised sports. To counter coastal erosion, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation have installed artificial reefs around the country's shores. These reefs are also meant to revive marine ecosystems. Animal trafficking is a large issue, and the Malaysian government is holding talks with the governments of Brunei and Indonesia to standardise anti-trafficking laws. The government is aiming to double the wild tiger population by 2020.
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