FLORA AND FAUNA, THAILAND NATURE

Flora and Fauna, Thailand Nature

Thailand sustains a wide diversity of flora and fauna. The country's long north-south extent permits an extraordinary range of habitats and climatic zones, from the equatorial to the near-temperate.

If no longer as flourishing as they were, the plant and animal kingdoms are still enormously rich and varied. Estimates reckons that 6% of the world's known species of vascular plants, 10% of the earth's fishes, 10% of the birds, 5% of the reptiles and 3% of the amphibians are found in Thailand.

Vegetation includes mangrove swamps, tropical rainforests and pine-clad mountain slopes, while the coastal waters boast a wealth of coral and reefs full of marine life.

Although 282 of the world's 4000 mammal species are found in Thailand, creatures of particular note are declining in numbers at an alarming rate.

The elephant is most symbolic of the nation, honoured in the past as work animal, war machine and ceremonial figure, though its latter-day fate, too, is sadly representative.

The wild elephant population is currently believed to be about 1000, and domesticated pachyderms number only slightly more. A century ago there were 20,000 work elephants in Northern Thailand alone.

Other noteworthy indigenous mammals found in varying though again mostly declining numbers include: tigers, leopards, Malayan sun bear, Asiatic black bear, sambar deer, barking deer, mouse deer, gibbons, macaques and various members of the wild cattle family.

Reptiles also have their endangered species, especially the river turtle and the freshwater crocodile,which have all but disappeared. Snakes, on the other hand, are well represented in number and species, the latter including six highly venomous varieties. Deadly snakebites are, however, extremely rare.

Thailand's coastal waters provide a rich habitat for marine flora and fauna characteristic of both the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific regions.

Game fish include blue marlin, sailfish, barracuda and various types of shark.

Coral reefs are also abundant in both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, although the impact of tourism, anchor damage and, most of all, the practice of dynamite fishing have all taken their toll.

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