Covering an area of 514,000 square miles, Thailand is a relatively small country with an amazing array of plant and animal life. The country spans many ecosystems from the temperate mountainous region of the north to tropical southern lowlands, providing ample habitat for the country's 285 species of mammals and thousands of varieties of plants.
The binturong (Arctictis binturong) is one of only two carnivores in the world with a prehensile tail. Also known as Asian bear cats, binturongs have an unusual physiology that superficially resembles bears or cats. It is a stocky animal that can reach 38 inches in length, weighing as much as 50 pounds, with shaggy black fur and bushy tails with a leathery tip. It can live up to 20 years in captivity. Binturongs are nocturnal and spend most of their time in the trees, sunbathing and searching for food. One of the most distinctive characteristics of the binturong is its unusual scent, which some have likened to the smell of buttered popcorn or cornbread. Binturongs are often kept as pets by the indigenous people of Thailand, the Orang Asli.
The siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus) is an arboreal, tail-less relative of the gibbon. It has several physical adaptations that help it survive almost exclusively in trees, such as brachiating arms built for swinging from branch to branch and large throat pouches that they can inflate with air to produce resonating calls that can be heard for miles. Siamangs are omnivorous, but rely more on plant foods than most other apes, with fruit comprising 60 percent of the animal's diet. They spend the majority of their waking hours relaxing and foraging for food. In the wild, siamangs generally live to be 25 years of age but in captivity they can live to be over 30 years. In Thailand, siamangs are endangered due to habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade. They are a protected species.
The brown-antlered deer (Rucervus eldii), sometimes called Eld's deer, is a species of deer native to Southeast Asia. There are three sub-species, including the Thailand brown-antlered deer, which is the second-largest deer species in the country. They are endangered in Thailand and will likely be extinct within the next five years, according to the Thai Society for the Conservation of Wild Animals. Both males and females are medium-sized and have a typical deer physique with long thin legs, a thin neck and a large head and body. Males are larger than females and can weigh up to 330 pounds.
Golden Shower Tree
The golden shower tree (Cassia fistula) is the national tree of Thailand. It is a medium-sized tree that grows between 35 and 70 feet in height with oval leaves and masses of vivid yellow flowers that emerge in late spring. The golden shower tree is an important plant in Ayurvedic and Thai traditional medicine. It does not grow well in dry climates and cannot tolerate the cold, but it is salt- and drought-tolerant to a certain degree.
Native to Thailand, India and Burma, the parrot flower (Impatiens psittacina) is a species of balsam known for its unusual flowers that resemble exotic birds in its shape and color. The flowers come in shades of lilac and vivid red with light-green sepals. It is a compact plant with a 1.5-foot growth habit and lightly serrated leaves. The parrot flower is a rare, protected species.
Native to southern Thailand and Malaysia, the velvet tamarind (Dialium indum) is a tropical, fruit-bearing tree valued for its fruit and hard wood. It is a threatened species in Thailand, where it is harvested extensively for building and carving. It grows to 90 feet tall and thrives in the dense tropical forests in the south of the country, where taller trees shield it from strong sunlight. The fruit, covered in chili powder and sugar, is a popular snack food in Thailand.