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Malaysia's equatorial climate is conducive for the proliferation of a variety of animal species, many of them endemic to this country. It is documented that there are more than one thousand species of butterflies, 600 species of birds, 280 species of mammals, 140 species of snakes, 165 species of frogs and toads, 80 species of lizards and a myriad of insect species. These animals are found in many different environments including mangrove swamps, rivers and mountainsides, primary and secondary forests as well as former mining land.
The largest of Malaysia's land animals is the elephant, of which both the Asian and the African species are found. The adult bull elephant is about 2.5 metres tall while the female animal can reach 2.2 metres. In Peninsular Malaysia, the wild elephants, numbering about 1,000 animals, live in small, scattered herds mostly in protected areas such as the National Park, the Krau Wildlife Reserve and the Endau-Rompin Park. Approximately another 1,000 elephants found in Sabah are confined to a very small area.
The Asiatic Elephant Elephas maximus, the largest mammal in the region.
The nocturnal Malayan tapir is a strange smooth black and white mammal, smaller than a hairy rhino but larger than a wild pig. It has a long flexible trunk-like snout. Its unusual colouring provides excellent camouflage in the dappled forest environment. Local folk tales claim that tapirs can walk completely submerged along a riverbed, feasting on aquatic grasses.
The hairy Sumatran two-horned rhinoceros (badak sumbu) is a solitary animal, but at times can be found in pairs or groups of threes. Of the five surviving rhinoceros species, it is the smallest and the most primitive. Confined almost entirely to mountainous areas, they are considered the most endangered species in Malaysia with only about 50 animals in Peninsular Malaysia, 20 in Sabah and perhaps one in Sarawak. In their natural habitat, they are often detected by their footprintsthree large toenails on each foot, one in front and one on each side with a maximum 18-24 cm width between the side nails. Another sign of their presence is where they have dug mud wallows into the soil to enjoy a cool mudbath on hot days.
Malaysia's national animal, the Malayan tiger, is the largest of the big cats. Known as the king of the jungle, it is found mostly in the major primary and secondary rainforests in the north-eastern states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang including the National Park.
There are also significant tiger populations in Perak and Johor. The average adult male tiger measures about 2.62 metres from head to tail while a tigress can reach up to 2.38 metres. These nocturnal creatures can weigh up to 150 kilograms.
Apart from the tiger, the Malaysian felidae family has seven other members: the panther, the clouded leopard, the golden cat, the leopard cat, the marbled cat and the flat-headed cat. The panther and the golden cat are found only in Peninsular Malaysia, while the bay cat is found only in Sabah and Sarawak. The remaining four are common to both areas.
The seladang of Peninsular Malaysia and the banteng or tembadau of Sabah and Sarawak are the second largest land animals in Malaysia. The bulls of both species of these wild cattle are larger and more powerfully built than domesticated cows. Compared to the seladang, the banteng is less massive and is distinguishable by its white rump. The adult bull is black while the younger males and female animals are pale reddish-brown in colour.