Covering nine percent of our planet’s total surface area, Asia is the largest and most populous continent. It encompasses 48 countries, and each has its own distinct culture waiting to be unearthed. But perhaps even more diverse than Asia’s residents are the unique animals that call it home.
Asia occupies the eastern four-fifths of the giant Eurasian landmass, comprising freezing tundra, dry desert, and tropical jungle, depending on where you venture. This means each nation is a breeding ground for unusual wildlife, some that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Looking at the oddest creatures you can encounter in Asia, our guide offers a snapshot of the fascinating wildlife to be found across this vast continent. From long-nosed lizards to flying lemurs, Asia is home to a number of exotic beasts you’re likely to have never heard. So let’s get into it.
Distinguished by its full armor of scales, the Pangolin is often mistaken for a reptile, but this scaly-skinned beast is actually a gentle mammal of the order Pholidota. In fact, they’re the only scaled mammal and use their thick skin as protection, rolling into an impenetrable ball when they feel threatened.
Pangolins are often likened to anteaters and enjoy a diet of termites and ants which they catch with their extra-long tongues. You can find four species of pangolin across Asia, the Indian, the Phillipeno, the Sunda, and the Chinese. They’re nocturnal animals, and they populate areas all over China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Borneo, India, Nepal, Myanmar, and the Philippines. Although, pangolins are sadly the most trafficked animals worldwide, and both the Sunda and Chinese pangolins are critically endangered.
Their thick protective scales are made from keratin, the same material that human rhino horns and human fingernails are made up of. Otherwise known as squama mantis, pangolin scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine for post-natal lactation for women. But pangolins are also trafficked for their meat and blood, both of which are a delicacy in China and southern Asia.
The Sunda flying lemur or Sunda colugo is neither a lemur nor capable of flight, but this fascinating tree-dwelling creature earned its name from the vast membrane that stretches its front limbs. This winglike span of skin facilitates the gliding movement it uses to travel between treetops.
Colugos were once considered close relatives of bats but are now thought to be nearer to primates in their evolutionary lineage. Small, furry, and surprisingly fast, these soaring mammals are a fascinating sight but not one you’re likely to see as they’re primarily nocturnal and populate the most remote jungles of Southeast Asia. They’re also endangered due to habitat loss and local hunting for their meat and fur.
The Sunda colugo’s diet consists mainly of leaves, but they also feed on coconut flowers, durian, buds, shoots, and sap from select trees.
The tanuki, also known as a raccoon dog, is a wild canid species native to Japan and known for its magic and mischief. In Japanese folklore, the long-limbed mammal is more closely related to the wolf than it is to the raccoon and symbolizes good luck and fortune. The word “tanuki” can actually be translated to “lucky” in old Japanese. These furry canines are thought to possess powerful magical abilities and tend to play tricks on humans with their inherent jovial temperament.
Found in the wilds, the habitat for the tanuki ranges from coastal zones to deciduous and evergreen forests, as well as farmland and anywhere near a water source. This means they’re abundant in Hokkaido, Kyushu, Honshu, Shikoku, and the Awaji and Sado Islands. However, you can find raccoon dogs in China, Korea, Manchuria, and southeastern Siberia. The Tanuki is an opportunistic omnivore, eating almost anything from rodents, lizards, and frogs to fruit, berries, insects, slugs, and snails.
There are just two subspecies of softshell turtles in Asia, and both are critically endangered. Resembling what can be imagined as a turtle without its shell, the Trionychidae is called “soft-shelled” because they lack horny scutes, unlike the bony carapaces of other species.
Softshell turtles instead have leathery and pliable carapaces. Still, their spiny softshell does have some scale-like projections with a solid bone beneath it that is absent at the outer edges. Turtles might use their homes for protection, but the softshell turtles aren’t entirely disadvantaged. Their unique frames actually make it easier for them to move through water or muddy lake beds, aided by their webbed and three-clawed feet. They can also move faster on land than other hard-shelled turtles.
Asiatic softshell turtles are prevalent all around Southeast Asia, although the Chinese subspecies are native to the country. You can also find varieties of softshell turtles in the US and Mexico. Still, they prefer tropical climates and muddy-bottomed waters where they spend long periods buried, using their snorkel-like noses to reach the water’s surface and breathe.
Majestically known as the “Asian Unicorn,” the Saola is one of the most unique animals in Asia and among the rarest mammals in the world. These forest-dwelling cattle have striking splatterings of light, and sometimes white, fur across their muzzles and signature twin horns with sharp ends that can reach 20 inches in length, hence their nickname.
Since their discovery, populations have been in rapid decline due to hunting and habitat loss. There are thought to be less than 700 left in the wild, and none exist in captivity. Saolas are timid and non-aggressive herbivores and eat only plants such as grass, trees, nuts, and berries. Saolas prefer dense forests and stay near riverbanks.
The striking facial markings of saolas are thought to mark territory or attract mates, making them easily distinguishable. Still, you’d have to be very fortunate to run across one as they are only found in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam of Laos.
Characterized by their bulbous noses and large potbellies that help them digest all the leaves they consume, the Probosci monkey is one of Asia’s most giant apes. Amusingly, Indonesians nicknamed this species the “Dutch Monkey” after settlers arrived in their country with similar bulging stomachs.
Unlike many animal species, male Proboscis monkeys are considerably larger than females, with an extra-prominent snout to attract mates. They also use it to amplify their warning calls and communicate within their social groups in the jungle.
These monkeys still exist in relatively high numbers, but they can only be found in Borneo. Concentrated in coastal regions, tourists can enjoy the monkeys dwelling riverside in groups or swinging through the trees in all three nations that divide the island. Proboscis monkeys eat mainly leaves, making them the only medium-sized mammal that can live in the forest’s canopy.
On the topic of prominent snouts, the gharial is another long-nosed creature that patrols the rivers of northern India and Nepal. Closely resembling a crocodile, gharials have elongated snouts used to devour fish caught in its fast-flowing river habitat. Nicknamed the “fish-eating crocodile” for this reason, the gharial is among the longest of all Gavialidaes – or crocodiles, with females measuring over four meters and males up to six meters.
The distinctive features of the gharial are not the only reason they’re one of the most unique animals in Asia. Instead, there are thought to be just 235 adult gharials left in the world, constituting for a massive 98 percent population decrease in just 100 years. Rare and timid, gharial is protective parents but not typically aggressive and wild hide from humans. They are often confused with the mugger crocodiles, which can attack and share sandbanks with gharials.
Once spread across South Asia from Pakistan to Myanmar, they now survive in small and aging populations within the tributaries of the Ganges.
Known to dwell in treetop canopies 13,000 feet above the ground, the Langur Chato is distinctively cute and elflike and is actually a type of leave-eating monkey. The Langur Chato has a small nose and a short silver, grey, brown, red, or black body, providing camouflage depending on their environment. Fascinatingly, they always live in monogamous pairs and can be very aggressive when protecting their young, despite their adorable demeanor.
Langurs are otherwise rather friendly and have been known to interact with visitors to their jungle habitat. Still, a sighting is very rare. Langur Chatos are endangered due to hunting, habitat loss, and chemical pollution, but they still exist in small numbers across India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
Tiny but mighty, the Draco Lizard has extraordinary skills and is one of the most unique animals in Asia because of its impressive soaring abilities. With a flap of skin attached to its ribs that can extend in wings, much like the Sunda Colugo in reptilian form, Drago Lizard leaps from branch to branch in the jungle canopy and can glide up to 30 feet at a time.
Although they spend most of their time in the treetops, the female lays her eggs on the ground. She builds a nest by forcing her head into the soil, where she will lay around five eggs before packing them in with dirt. These flying dragons fiercely guard their nest for 24 hours before returning to the treetops and leaving the hatchlings to fend for themselves.
They might be unusual, but thankfully, Draco Lizardshave no conservations status and are abundant in densely wooded areas of Borneo, South India, and the Philippines. Draco Lizards feed on ants and termites and are well adapted for life in the canopy.
What is the most interesting animal in Asia?
The most interesting and unique animals in Asia include the pangolin, the tanuki, the Sunda colugo, and the Proboscis monkey. These unusual creatures are not only rare, but they have distinct visual characteristics and behaviors that separate them from other mammals. Specific climates and social conditions also determine the numbers of these animals that can still be found in the wild, with most relying on the unique conditions of their native countries and habitats to survive.
What animal is only found in Asia?
The Malayan Tapir is one of five living varieties of tapir and the only surviving Old World species. Characterized by its long snout, similar to that of an anteater, the tapir lives in the tropical lowland rainforest of Southeast Asia. Native to southern Thailand, southern Myanmar, the Malayan Peninsula, and Indonesian Sumatra, the Malayan tapir cannot be found outside Asia and is critically endangered in areas where small populations can be found.
What animal is the king of Asia?
The tiger rules the animal kingdom in Asia and has an impressive list of honors to its name. Immortalized in song, poetry, expressions, and art all over Asia, it is the official animal of four Asian countries and the king of the jungle. Wild tigers still live all over Asia, but most species are sadly endangered. There are around 3,000 tigers in the wild and 8,000 in captivity across the continent. Separated into nine subspecies, three of which are now extinct, the Indochinese tiger is the most prominent in Asia.