Vietnam is a land of rich biodiversity, diverse habitats, and a range of interesting and unique species. With a variety of climates and environments, the country provides sustenance for all kinds of creatures to thrive. And while they may not be seen often, or hardly ever, Vietnam is home to some of the coolest wildlife in the world.
Some scientists predict that the nation has about 200,000 species that have yet to be recorded. And of those different plants and animals, some can only be found in small pockets of Vietnam or Southeast Asia. From the elusive Truong Son Muntja to the incredibly unique Pangolin, there is a diverse array of creatures to potentially see while visiting.
What animals live in Vietnam?
Vietnam is home to a huge array of wildlife species from monkeys to elephants and a whole world of plants and animals in-bewteen . Seeing these magnificent creatures in the wild may not be all that easy, but Vietnam is home to plenty of interesting and cool species that are sure to captivate you on your visit. Sprinkled throughout the country, keep your eyes open for any one of these critters.
Langurs & Other Primates
Langurs are a sneak peek into a world of primates that we rarely think about. As a leaf-eating species, these small, colorful, and innovating Old World monkeys focus on finding plants and leaves for their diet. Vietnam has 12 distinct species of Langurs, some of whom find solace deep in the rainforest while others make their homes along limestone cliffs in the north of the country.
These small, nimble monkeys are known for their loud calls, bright colors, and long tails. If you’re lucky enough to see one moving through the forest, you may get treated to watching them as they descend up to 12-meters through midair. Their long tails act as a suspension system that allows them to drop huge distances without injury.
Most Langurs in Vietnam are endangered and many are captured and used in traditional Eastern medicines, exotic cuisine, or sold into the pet industry. A number of conservation groups in Vietnam focus solely on the preservation of these incredible and colorful monkeys.
Con Dao Long-tailed Macaque
Vietnam has five endemic species of Long-Tailed Macaque and, unfortunately, none are exempt from the pressures of illegal wildlife capture and trade. As a matter of fact, Vietnamese communities have traditionally captured these monkeys for pets of their own in addition to exporting them to other countries.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) claims that the Long-tailed Macaque is one of the most highly traded species in the world. What makes the Con Dao Long-tailed Macaque a unique animal is that it is endemic to a tiny chain of islands, called the Con Dao Islands off the south coast of Vietnam.
These monkeys have evolved to thrive in coastal habitats where they can often be seen foraging the intertidal waters for things like crab and other shoreline shellfish and crustaceans. Any trip to Vietnam will most certainly provide some interaction with a subspecies of Long-tailed Macaques, but this island-dwelling group of monkeys is a specialty only seen in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s thousands of cave systems and clouds of insects have given bats a special little pocket of the world where they can thrive. There are around 90 recorded species in Vietnam but researchers think that’s just scratching the surface. The bats of Vietnam range in size from quite small to quite large.
Some are known for avoiding confrontation with human presence and others, like the recently discovered Beelzebub’s Tube-nosed Bat is known for being a ferocious protector in the presence of danger. Bats in Vietnam are widespread but they are also the target of frequent hunts and large-scale captures.
These echolocating flying mammals are often used in traditional medicine remedies, sold as pets, or commonly captured and consumed. Bats play a vital role in insect management thus one could think of Vietnam’s bats as the nation’s live-action deet solution.
Truong Son Muntjac
The Truong Son Muntjac are thought to be one of the world’s rarest animals as well as the hardest to observe. In fact, the last time anyone caught a glimpse of one of these small forest deer was 1997. That is until 2014, when the first, and last, sighting of a Truong Son Muntjac was by forest rangers that saved an individual from an illegal trap.
These small, bizarre forest-dwelling deer species are just 15 kg and are small in stature allowing them to easily navigate the thick underbrush of the mountain forests of Vietnam. The nation’s conservation groups and forest rangers are working tirelessly to clear the species predicted habitats of things like snares and net traps.
Another of Vietnam’s gloriously colorful and unique species, Edward’s Pheasant lives in the same mystery as the Truong Son Muntjac. Periodic anecdotes from locals will claim to have seen an individual in the thickness of the mountain forests but scientists searching for this iconic Vietnamese species have not seen a wild individual since 2000.
It’s listed as one of the world’s top-100 most endangered species and has sparked a flurry of interest from southeast Asian ornithologists hoping to catch a glimpse of one of these secretive yet majestic mountain pheasants.
Giant Butterfly Lizard
While the Giant Butterfly Lizard lives in multiple countries, it’s still an awesome species with deep ties to the Vietnamese wilderness. These lizards are sure to catch your eye with their dinosaur-like appearance. It’s probably why they’ve become one of Vietnam’s most commonly trapped and traded reptilian species.
In Vietnam, the Giant Butterfly Lizards thrive in the lowlands where loose soil enables them to create long chains of interconnected underground burrows. They’ll eat just about anything, plants, insects, small rodents, you name it. One odd aspect of this Lizard’s complicated relationship with Vietnam is its frequent use as, well, meat.
The concept of bushmeat is still considered a sign of luxury in the country, and Giant Butterfly Lizards traditionally provided a large portion of the nation’s bushmeat consumption. Conservation groups in Vietnam have started pushing back on the industry but things like Giant Butterfly Lizard farms have popped up to fill the gaps.
The Pangolin is perhaps the most unique mammal in the world. It’s the only mammal known to mankind that has developed scales as a defensive mechanism against depredation. In Vietnam, there are two species of Pangolin: the Sunda Pangolin in the south and the Chinese Pangolin in the north.
Pangolins are considered the most trafficked mammal in the world. It’s used in traditional medicine, traded as an exotic pet, and its meat is considered a delicacy in many regions of the world. But Pangolins have clawed their small, scaly selves into the limelight and become one of the world’s most iconic conservation species.
There are various Pangolin rescues and rehabilitation centers throughout Vietnam.
The Owston’s Civet is a small weasel-like mammal with distinct black, grey, and white striping that lives in the evergreen forests and wooded riverbank regions of Vietnam. Its long pointed nose and surprisingly efficient claws sometimes cause people to mistake it as a large (and much more beautiful) shrew species. The Owston’s Civet is an animal whose story is defined by a ticking timer.
There is little known about what role this insectivorous mammal plays in Vietnam’s ecosystem but its population is quickly dwindling due to poaching and habitat loss. It’s currently thought that stream-rich regions of the central Annamites are the only pockets left in the country supporting significant numbers of Ostwon’s Civets.
Everybody loves otters! They are personable, very cute, and important. In Vietnam, there is a handful of river otter species but the most notable are the Small-clawed River Otter and the Smooth-coated Otter. Both are unfortunately endangered and are quickly losing both habitat and population numbers.
In diverse estuary ecosystems like the Mekong River Delta, both of these species can be found and often observed in their large family units of up to 15 individuals. They’re benthic hunters which means they like to dive, dig and crack open some fresh estuary crab.
Vietnamese Giant Centipede
Creepy crawlers are unavoidable in just about any Vietnamese region whether it’s urban or rural. One creepy crawler species that has everyone’s attention in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Giant Centipede, known for its shockingly large size, up to 8 inches long, and its deceivingly powerful venom.
While it likely won’t put you in a casket, a sting from one of these bad boys will certainly leave a mark and some lingering pain. There have, on rare occasions, been reports of serious side effects as well. Two surprising facts about centipedes are that they don’t always have 100 legs, despite the name, and they are aggressive. Keep your distance from this pound-for-pound champion.
While not much is known about where to find the Vietnamese Giant Stick-Bug in Vietnam, or how many there are, they can grow up to 32 cm long, making it the second-largest insect ever recorded. Although enormous compared to other bugs and creepy crawlies, as you can imagine, it can be exceptionally challenging to observe them as they blend into their surroundings.
Vietnamese Forest Scorpion
Sticking to this theme of forest-dwelling insects that would make a grown man sound like a broken flute, the Vietnamese Forest Scorpion is a mean-looking insect with an even meaner sting. While their venom probably won’t send you running for medical attention, it’s sure as heck going to hurt.
These prehistoric forest floor insects can grow up to 12 cm and are actually close relatives of spiders. They are capable of catching and consuming large prey as well such as other insects and even small lizards. That being said, if a Vietnamese Forest Scorpion only made one catch per year, it could still survive.
We figured after perusing some of Vietnam’s more frightening ecological citizens we’d finish on a colorful and joyful note: Hornbills. The Great Hornbill and its cousins are some of Vietnam’s most majestic animals. While most Hornbill species are not necessarily completely endemic to Vietnam, many are near-endemic.
Hard to miss due to their huge colorful beaks, horns, and rich plumage, their deep guttural calls are, in our opinion, the heartbeat of Vietnam’s lowland forests.