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The great variety of wildlife in Asia includes many species that are unique to the continent. Orangutans, the second tallest of the ape family after gorillas, are found on Borneo and Sumatra. Giant pandas make their home in southwestern China, and snow leopards roam the plateaus and mountains of Central Asia. A rare freshwater seal lives in Lake Baikal. China’s Yangtze River is home to a freshwater dolphin threatened by water pollution and increased numbers of motorized river vessels. The Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard and among the oldest surviving lizards, inhabits a small island in eastern Indonesia.
Asia’s wildlife generally can be classified by the particular vegetation zones they inhabit. Reindeer live in the southern tundra region of northern Siberia. Small fur-bearing animals, such as sables and foxes, are plentiful in the taiga forest of Russian Asia. The grasslands are home to antelope and many rodents, including marmots. In the mountainous areas of Central Asia live tiny musk deer. Tigers, one species of which inhabits northern Siberia, are found throughout the tropical rain forests of South and Southeast Asia. This area is also home to rhinoceroses, monkeys, and several subspecies of elephants.
In the hilly regions of Southwest Asia live gazelles. A rare species of antelope known as the oryx is found on the fringes of the desert areas of the Arabian Peninsula. Other animals commonly found in Southwest Asia include wolves and hyenas.
The remote mountainous region of Vietnam adjacent to the border with Laos has yielded some remarkable discoveries of animals previously unknown by scientists. A new species of cattle-like animal, the sao la (vu quang), was discovered in 1993, only the fourth discovery of this kind in the 20th century. Scientists have discovered other creatures since 1992, including two deerlike animals, the giant muntjac and the quang khem.
Asia’s domesticated animals include water buffalo, which are harnessed to plows and carts. Cattle are also used for hauling, especially in India, which has the world’s largest cattle population. Most people in India do not eat beef because they belong to the Hindu religion, which considers cows sacred. Pigs are a major source of protein in China, although they are considered unclean in the Islamic countries, which include Pakistan, Afghanistan, and most countries of the Middle East. Sheep are kept across vast areas of semiarid Russian Asia, and reindeer are farmed in the north. People throughout the dry areas of the Middle East use camels.
The bird life of Asia is varied and includes several rare species. In the mountains of northern India lives the lammergeier, a huge bird similar to the vulture, that can obtain a wingspread of almost 3 m (10 ft). Peacocks and birds of paradise are found in the rain forests of Southeast Asia.
The continent of Asia is also home to many of the world’s poisonous snakes. Cobras, which are especially common in India, and kraits and vipers, which are found throughout the continent, are the leading poisonous snakes. Numerous other reptiles, such as crocodiles, live in the rivers of Southeast Asia.