The Greater Mekong region’s unique and diverse ungulate community – animals with hooves – are close to disappearing unless governments in the region intensify efforts to restore their numbers and protect their habitats, according to a new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report, Rumble in the Jungle.
The 13 ungulates profiled in the report vary from a dog-sized deer to culturally significant wild cattle. Some have been seen so seldom that they have taken on an almost mythical status. Although, an unparalleled four new species have been discovered in the last 20 years, their futures are uncertain and for some it is already too late, the report notes.
“One of the most spectacular collections of ungulates in the world is under relentless threat from illegal hunting, and it is critical that governments in the region respond by boosting protection efforts if we’re to have any hope of saving many of these species,” said Barney Long, Director, Species Conservation Program, WWF.
One of the species, the saola, is close to disappearing from the region. Its 1992 discovery was described as one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century. The difficulty in detecting the secretive animal has prevented making a precise population estimate, but numbers could be in the tens to the low hundreds.
A number of other species could face a similar fate if action is not taken to protect them, including the leaf muntjac – so small a single large tree leaf can wrap its body; and the banteng, considered to be one of the most graceful of all wild cattle species. Two species endemic to the Greater Mekong region, the kouprey and Schomburgk’s deer, became globally extinct in the 20th century.
“While illegal hunting is fast eroding the populations of these species, they can still be saved if governments put biodiversity protection and wildlife crime prevention at the forefront of their decision-making,” Long said.