Vertebrate fauna of SE Asia


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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
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Family : Hominidae
Species : Homo sapiens

Height, male : average 170 cm
Height, female : average 160 cm
Tail length, : no tail
Weight, male : average 80 kg
Weight, female : average 70 kg

Homo sapiens (= 'wise man') inhabits all continents, being especially numerate in Asia, where many now live in urban settings. Globally there are around 7 billion humans, of which more than 600 million inhabit Southeast Asia.

Humans evolved directly from a great ape ancestor which also gave rise to the Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and the Bonobo (Pan paniscus). One other group of great apes inhabits Southeast Asia, namely orang utans, of which 3 species are now recognised.

The success of Homo sapiens in populating large parts of the planet can be ascribed to a highly developed brain and manual dexterity, with an opposable thumb. In contrast to other great apes, humans almost exclusively use bipedal locomotion to move around, except for the very young.

There are numerous subspecies, or races, of human which can be roughly differentiated on the basis of skin colour and facial features. Skin tone varies from dark brown to pale pink, depending on the amount of melanin present in the skin. Humans are the least hairy of all primates - hair is mainly confined to the top of the head, the genital area and, in males, on the cheeks.

Humans are mainly omnivores, feeding on many types of vegetation as well as on vertebrates such as fishes, domestic birds and large, domestic mammals. Fire, or heat, is widely used to cook food, in order to release stored nutrients. Some humans still consume wild vertebrates from forested habitats, and this is increasingly detrimental to wildlife populations and entire ecosystems.

Humans are highly intelligent primates, exhibiting altruistic behaviour, which is a cornerstone of evolved, peaceful, civilized societies. Most are competitive but generally peaceful in nature, however at times violence, warfare and property destruction are used to assert dominance.

The primary energy source of humans is hydrocarbons i.e. oil and gas compounds comprising carbon and hydrogen sourced from underground. Modern agricultural activity relies heavily on this energy source to operate machinery and to fertilise the soil in the form of synthetic fertilisers.

Hydrocarbons are also the source of plastics, an essential group of compounds used in nearly every manufactured item. Typically the use of energy is highly wasteful and pollutive, and plastics can cause significant environmental damage.

The impact of humans on natural habitats is catastrophic, with forests being cleared, vast monocultures being planted, wetland habitats being drained, and soils becoming exhausted by unsustainable agriculture.

Humans pollute watercourses and the oceans with their massive volumes of waste matter, generated from both food consumption and industrial activity.

In the field, signs of human presence are easy to spot. Typically they emit much noise, have a tendency to discard food packaging onto the ground, and trample vegetation.

Population density of this species in Southeast Asia is at its highest in Singapore, and probably at its lowest in the interior of Borneo.

Fig 1 : An example of a typical human - an adult female from Lombok, Indonesia - carrying a common food source, the fruits of the Banana Musa sp.

Fig 2 : A small group of humans from the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, harvesting a type of rice Oryza sativa, a staple food source for much of Southeast Asia.

Fig 3 : Denuded soils and eroded hillsides in an area once covered with lush, lowland primary forest in Peninsular Malaysia.

Fig 4 : Forest clearance in Peninsular Malaysia. Two years later the area was planted with the African Oil Palm Elaeis guineensis, which is a common feedstock for the processed food industry.

Fig 5 : Signs of human activity - litter and other waste from various sources piled haphazardly at the edge of secondary forest. Much of this refuse, particularly plastics, will take many decades to decompose.

References :