Ungulates – mammals with hooves – are a pretty varied bunch of creatures, encompassing everything from domestic cattle like pigs and goats, to wild and increasingly rare species like the Javan rhino and Mountain tapir.
But the ungulates I’m talking about today are quite special, varying from dog-sized deer to antlered creatures so seldom seen that they have taken on a mythical status…
These creatures don’t have the same global spotlight as species like the tiger (also found in the Mekong), but they are incredibly few and far between. Unless we make some noise about the existence of Mekong’s ungulates, they could disappear from this world forever without people even knowing they were here in the first place- quietly sharing our planet.
They are also incredibly important in ecological terms. Many of these ungulates are only found within this particular region of Southeast Asia. They are used as an indicator of the health and ecological integrity of the entire Mekong region, as they face similar threats to other – harder to survey – species. Their loss would deal a serious blow to the remaining population of endangered tigers that rely on the ungulates as their main food source.
Sadly, these ungulates are threatened from every angle. They get trapped in snares that weren’t intended for them. Others – like sambar, munjac and civets – are targeted specifically for their body parts for the lucrative wildlife trade driven by traditional medicine in China and restaurant and food markets in Vietnam and Laos. If this weren’t enough – the ungulates are losing their habitat at an extraordinary rate: the Greater Mekong countries have lost 42.2 million hectares of forest (that’s 30% forest cover!) between 1973-2009 – the latest report has revealed.
The issues are all connected: habitat destruction has paved the way for Asia’s rural poor and illegal wildlife traders to penetrate further into forests to poach key ungulate species. The loss of these creatures means more competition for food for tigers who are preying on livestock instead, causing additional problems for people who rely on their cattle for food and income.
The problems are varied and complex but as we reveal how much there is to still learn about our natural world and the treasures within in it, the more we can ensure that species like the Mekong ungulates are not forgotten.
Read WWF’s Rumble in the Jungle report here.