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With coastlines, swampy river deltas, various types of tropical rainforests, caves and lush mountain ranges, Vietnam is fortunate when it comes to biodiversity. Unfortunately, habitat loss and poaching are serious problems—not to mention the use of endangered animals for traditional medicines. But, there are 30 national parks, as well as four UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. The government has also prioritized conservation measures, so they are taking steps in the right direction. Here are 11 animals you’ve got to check out while you’re in Vietnam.
These colorful primates get their name from the Vietnamese word for torch: đuốc. They’re canopy dwellers, so you might have to strain your neck to find them high up in the jungles of central Vietnam. When you find one, though, there will be others nearby, as they live in groups of 4-15.
Where to find them: Central Highlands, from Pleiku in the South, to Vinh in the North.
With a large casque on its beak, the Great Hornbill is one weird-looking bird. The protrusion serves no evident purpose, and scientists believe it likely grew as a result of sexual selection. Whatever the casque is for, the Great Hornbill is a bird you’ll have no trouble recognizing.
Where to find them: Hilly, old-growth forests throughout Vietnam.
To catch a glance of these monkeys, you’ll need to head up into the northern mountains of Vietnam. They live in groups of up to 600 members, splitting up into smaller groups during winter. They are territorial and will use their wide vocal range to scare off anything they consider a threat.
Where to find them: The mountain forests of Northern Vietnam, near the Chinese border.
Smaller than their African relatives, Indian Elephants are found throughout South and Southeast Asia. Their numbers are minuscule in Vietnam, however. Most of them are in reserves, or in sanctuaries.
Where to find them: For your best chance, head to Đắk Lắk Province.
These bears are also known as “Honey Bears” because the sweet, sticky goo makes up a large part of their diet. They have a distinctive crescent patch on their chests, and they are one of the smallest bears in the world, measuring just 120-150cm (47-59 in) in length. But don’t mistake their size for docility, because they’re known to react violently when surprised.
Where to find them: Throughout Vietnam, but probably a better chance to see them in a zoo.
This cute creature has big eyes and it crawls along at a meager pace, hunting at night for insects, fruits, sap, and nectar. They get to the sap in trees by drilling a hole in the bark with their sharp teeth. When they’re threatened, they freeze, which is adorable. Unfortunately, this makes them easy targets for hunters and poachers.
Where to find them: Everywhere in Vietnam except the Mekong Delta.
Vietnam is home to many kinds of frogs, but this one—also called the Theloderma Corticale—looks the strangest because of the texture of its skin. They’re abundant in Northern Vietnam, on jungle cliffs and in caves, but they’ll still be difficult to spot because of their camouflaging.
Where to find it: Northern Vietnam.
These large monitor lizards live near water and can grow up to two meters long. They have even been caught in Ho Chi Minh City, lurking around the canals and rivers in search of rodents, fish, crabs, and birds to eat. Their powerful tails make them great swimmers, but they also use them to whip threats. Since they aren’t on the endangered species list, people often hunt them to make fashion accessories out of their skin.
Where to find them: All through South and Southeast Asia.
For lack of a better phrase, Water Buffaloes are the workhorses of Vietnam. They till the rice paddies and haul carts of supplies in rural areas—deeply entrenched in Vietnamese folklore and tradition. For many children, caring for the water buffalo is their responsibility. In Vietnam alone, there are approximately three million Water Buffaloes.
Where to find them: Any rural area in Vietnam.
There are Burmese Pythons in Vietnam. That is a scary thought. Thankfully, they’re afraid of people so they tend to keep their distance, sticking near water to feast on small mammals and birds. Because of their unique coloring and docility, they are popular as pets, and many are captured and sold through black markets.
Where to find them: Most of South and Southeast Asia.
This rare dog breed is native to Phú Quốc, an island off the southern coast near Cambodia. It’s one of only three breeds in the world known to have a ridge of fur along its spine that runs opposite to the rest of its hair—the Rhodesian Ridgeback and Thai Ridgeback being the other two. Their ridge is common among mutts in Vietnam, but there are only 700 purebred Phu Quoc Ridgeback dogs registered to the Vietnam Kennel Club.
Where to find them: Some have been sold to mainland Vietnam, but most are on Phú Quốc Island.