Animals so valuable t hey may stop existing

(No.10, Vol.2, Oct 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

On September 11, 2012, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published a list of the 100 animals around the world that are most threatened with extinction. The list includes six animals from Vietnam: the Pangasid Catfish (Pangasius sanitwongsei), the Red River Giant Soft-Shelled Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), Edward’s Pheasant (Lophura edwardsi), the Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), the Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus), and the Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus). They are animal species that were assessed to be extremely endangered. These species have been listed in the legal regulations and conservation documents of Vietnam and the rest of the world.

Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey
(Rhinopithecus avunculus)
The Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey has dark brown or black fur. The hair around its head and eyes is a dull white. It lacks hair on the crown of its head. The areas around its stomach, eyes, and front and rear limbs are off-white. Its tail is longer than its body and has bristling fur. Newly born babies have faint yellowish fur that changes as they mature. The Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey’s food consists primarily of shoots, leaves, and fruit. The Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey typically lives in forests of tall trees in valleys and on mountaintops at an altitude of 200m-1,000m.

Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey
Photo: Le Khac Quyet

The Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey is one of Vietnam’s unique primates and is one of the earth’s 25 most endangered primate species. Today, it is only known in the Na Hang and Cham Chu Nature Preserves in the northern province of Tuyen Quang and the Khau Ca Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey Species & Habitat Preserve and Tung Vai Forest of Ha Giang province up north. It is threatened because of illegal hunting activities as well as the decline of its habitat.

Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus):
The Javan Rhino is already extinct in Vietnam.
The Javan Rhino once lived in the forests of Cat Loc – Cat Tien National Park, where it served as an icon. The last specimen of its species was found dead in the forest in 2010. After much investigation and research, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) declared that the species was extinct in Vietnam.

Javan Rhino
Photo: Phung My Trung, retaken from
a photo at Cat Tien National Park

As the largest among the Rhinocerotidae, rhinoceros family in Vietnam, the Javan Rhino can grow up to three meters in length. It can weigh over 2,000kg. Its vision is poorly developed. On its nose, the male has only one horn, which grows right on the nose. The horn is formed from the cuticle, so it is not attached to the skeleton but rather to the epidermis of the skin. Its skin is hard with thin hair. Three deep folds and numerous small folds divide the surface of the skin into many plates (like armour). Its back and both sides of its hips are deep grey; its belly is reddish. It has large three-toed feet with semi-circular hooves. The centre hoof is larger that the two side hooves. The solitary Javan Rhino dwells in mature forests in secluded areas where people do not transverse. It commonly inhabits places close to damp swamps, in which it is fond of immersing in the muddy waters.
Presently, only one small Javan Rhino population of no more than 100 specimens exists in the Ujung Kulon Nation Park on the island of Java, Indonesia.

Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)
The Saola’s body reaches 1.3-1.5m in length and weighs 80-120kg. It has a dark brown head with white or faint black markings. Its face is dark or reddish brown. Both the males and females have white stripes above and beneath the eyes and many white markings on its neck and chin. The tips of its ears have a tuft of long white hair. Its back is brown, while its sides have dull white variegations. Its soft fur is curled at the centre of the nose, the sides of the neck, and both shoulders. It has white variegations on all four feet. Both males and females have horns. Its food consists mainly of grass and forest tree leaves. By the time a young Saola is 7-8 months old, it will have already consumed 58 plant species for food.

Photo: Toon Fey

The Saola was first discovered in Central Vietnam in 1992. It has adapted to high mountain forests. Its distribution is limited and its numbers are not large. The Saola is still hunted and trapped. The Saola’s habitat is increasing shrinking due to encroachment by the clearing of forests for farming along the banks of forest streams. The regions in which it is distributed have been segregated into small pockets. The Saola faces crisis as its numbers diminish.

Edward’s Pheasant (Lophura edwardsi)
The mature male Edward’s Pheasant is deep blue. It has a white crest of feathers on the crown of its head. The feathers on its back, wings and tail are black with silver/indigo edges. The skin on its face is dark red. Its eyes are reddish orange. Its beak is dull yellow or ivory. Its legs are dark red. The Edward’s Pheasant was first discovered at an altitude of 50-200m in the lush secondary forests of the two provinces Quang Binh and Quang Tri in Central Vietnam.

Edward’s Pheasant
Photo: Phung My Trung

Edward’s Pheasant is a unique species of Vietnam. Investigations and researches conducted from 1988 to the present reveal that the forested areas in which it was historically distributed have been severely damaged after the prolonged devastating war and over-exploitation. It is threatened by hunting, pet keeping, and illegal trafficking. Edward’s Pheasant is considered a rare species of the pheasant family and is few in number. The areas in which it is distributed are limited and special care is being taken to preserve it.

Red River Giant Soft-Shelled Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)
The Red River Giant Soft-Shelled Turtle, which is distributed in Vietnam, is the world’s largest species of freshwater soft-shelled turtle. Its flat shell is elongated and somewhat rectangular. Its shell is a brownish green or dark brown (as in the dried specimens in Vietnam). The standard specimen is housed in the British Nature History Museum. The specimen has yellow spots and many small marks that lie across the centre (sometimes they form a circle around a large spot or form stripes). The turtle’s underbelly is grey or dull white.

Red River Giant Soft-Shelled Turtle
Photo: Ha Dinh Duc

The Red River Giant Soft-Shelled Turtle commonly lives in deep, sluggish rivers and lakes. During the muggy weather of summer, this species often pokes its neck out of the water to breathe. In the winter, the turtle in Sword Lake (Hanoi) sometimes crawls onto the mound in the middle of the lake to bask in the sun. Although the turtle is large sized, it is not aggressive like tortoises and is slow-moving. It does not bite people as in tall tales. Currently, the species runs a high risk of extinction.

Pangasid Catfish (Pangasius sanitwongsei)
The Pangasid Catfish is a freshwater catfish of great dimensions. Specimens weighing up to 200kg have been caught in the Mekong River Delta. Its head is flat and even with the mouth, which cannot stretch out or retract, near the bottom. The front of its body has circular cross-sections and flattens towards the rear.

Pangasid Catfis
Photo: Andri Pogo

The end of its tail is elongated. The scales on its back include a prominent spine of scales that extends towards the tail with serrated teeth pointing down to the corner of its dorsal fin. This species lives primarily in the Mekong Delta region and is quite rare. Nevertheless, the species has not been included on Vietnam’s Red List nor had any policy intended to preserve it.

By Le Khac Quyet, Hoang Minh Duc & Phung My Trung
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