Our world’s plentiful nature delivers an awe-inspiring number of the most engaging, delightful and feared creatures for us to admire and wonder at on our travels. There is nothing quite like watching those animals we share our earth with, move through habitats and behave with their idiosyncratic mannerisms.
Our human fascination with some animal species is complex, and sadly has led to some mass exploitation and serious strain on the survival of many irreplaceable species. Let’s hope we can change the way we interact so these beautiful creatures can continue sharing our earth untroubled by mistreatment.
Japanese Crane and Snow Monkey
The Japanese Crane is a giant among birds. To the Japanese, it is an iconic symbol of happiness, purity and long life. Standing at 1.5 metres tall, with a wingspan of 2.5 meters, it is impressive with a dramatic black and white plumage. Japanese cranes mate for life and devoted pairs display stylish courtship mannerisms in the breeding season. Their long black legs echo of a graceful ballet dance as the mating ritual of leaps, bows and wing flaps commences. When whole flocks join together the performance is mesmerising. In the chilly winter season the cranes keep warm by standing on one leg and protecting their body underneath one wing. Just a hundred years ago the Japanese Crane was on the point of extinction due to hunting and habitat loss. However, with recent protection and conservation the survival chances and their numbers are climbing steadily. The Japanese cranes can be found in northern Hokkaido throughout the year. See these great birds during the winter, ideally in February or during the summer breeding season.
Another marvel when visiting Japan are the Japanese macaques. Watching them at play, taking a bath, or just having a leisurely swim in the hot springs is a joy. Peek beyond the fur, red faces and red bottoms of these active little primates and you’ll see the curiously human traits of their nature. Japanese macaques, more commonly known as snow monkeys, can survive winter temperatures of below -15 °C, by huddling together to retain heat. Japan can be a fairly harsh winter environment with snow on the ground for a third of the year, but with the blessing of hot springs some snow monkeys have managed to create a little piece of paradise and take centre stage as a major tourist attraction.
Jigokudani Monkey Park near Nagano, Japan is known for its large population of snow monkeys, which descend from the steep surrounding cliffs during the day to sit in the warm hot springs. Previously the monkeys only visited the springs in the winter but with food titbits in abundance they now forage year round in the park.
Indonesia’s Komodo Dragon
Don’t let anyone tell you that dragons don’t exist! They are alive and best kept at a healthy distance if you decide on a visit to the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca and the Lesser Sunda. The largest and heaviest living lizard on earth, the Komodo dragons grow to 3 metres in length and can weigh up to a monster 166 kilos with undigested food in their stomachs. They are able to eat up to 80 per cent of their body weight in one meal so you certainly don’t want to get too close to a hungry one! Despite their size and weight they are strong swimmers in the water and can move easily between these groups of islands. Dragons will eat almost anything, including deer, pigs, smaller dragons, large water buffalo and even humans are on the dinner spectrum for this apex predator. Smart juvenile dragons avoid the dangers of cannibalism by climbing trees too fragile to support fully grown dragons. So keep an eye out for a handy tree to climb if you ever meet a dragon out for a stroll!
Strangely, new scientific research into this incredible lizard shows that compounds in its blood could potentially fight super bugs that afflict humans. We always believed the legend that dragon’s blood was a cure! Komodo National Park is definitely worth the visit to see these magnificent creatures in their domain of white-sand beaches and crystal blue water.
Orang-utan, the Man of the Forest
One of our most special and closest relatives live on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo and a look into the eyes of an orang-utan is to look into a mirror. The orang-utan is the only great ape to exist outside of the African continent and it is a treasure for Asia. Orang-utan means “man of the forest” – the indigenous people felt the orang-utan was simply a person hiding in the trees, trying to avoid having to work. Orang-utans are born with an ability to reason and they communicate with facial expressions and body language more than the incessant calls heard from many monkey species. They are solitary creatures and highly arboreal moving carefully through the canopy of trees by climbing and walking along strong branches. Very sadly the Bornean and Sumatran orang-utans are both critically endangered, losing their habitat to logging and land clearings. The Orang-utan Federation International (successor to the Orang-utan Research and Conservation Program) helps oversee eco-programs in the Tanjung Puting National Park of southern Borneo.
If ever you decide to experience some of Asia’s magnificent wildlife here are a few more tips and links full of useful information:
- Waiting until mid/late morning before walking the 2km trail to visit the snow monkeys as the sun will have risen over the high rocky valley.
- Kushiro Shitsugen National Park in Hokkaido is the largest wetland in Japan and the most popular place to see the Japanese crane.
- Komodo has some amazing diving opportunities with superb corals – but do remember, dragons can swim!
- Help the cause to protect orang-utans by choosing an adoption package through the World Wildlife Fund Gift Center. https://gifts.worldwildlife.org/gift-center/gifts/Species-Adoptions/Orangutan
For more information on the Japanese Crane and Snow Monkey, the Komodo Dragon, the Orang-utan and other endangered animals, see: