13 Unique Indonesian Animals

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Indonesia is the largest archipelago on the planet with over 17,000 islands making up the country. It is known for its high levels of biodiversity and for those who love wildlife, there are some truly amazing Indonesian animals in the skies, the ocean and on the land.

For animal lovers, visiting one of Earth’s 17 megadiverse countries is nothing short of a dream. For many of us, these rare wild animals live on the fringes of our imaginations and the thought of seeing them up close is difficult to comprehend. 

Travellers heading Indonesia stand a chance at seeing these exotic creatures first hand… if they know where to look. This article will detail some of the most fascinating animals native to Indonesia and also tell you where you need to go for a chance to spot them in the wild!

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A Note About Animal Tourism…

Disclaimer: It goes without saying that the best setting in which to see any animal is in the wild in their natural habitat. Although Southeast Asia does have a budding wildlife tourism industry, this is rarely the best way to see exotic creatures and can be hugely damaging to the welfare of the animal. 

Always do your research before embarking on a wildlife tour or visiting an animal sanctuary. Many unethical outfits are clued up on the lingo which travellers like to hear and parade buzzwords around to instil a sense of reassurance. If you are a wildlife lover, you owe it to these endangered animals to invest only in genuinely responsible tourism. 


13 Incredible Indonesian Animals

1. Komodo Dragon

  • Where are they found in the wild: The islands of Komodo, Flores, Rinca and Padar.
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable.
  • Interesting Fact: Despite their ferocious reputation, Komodo Dragons have only killed at least four people over the last five decades!
Komodo-Dragons-in-Indonesia
Komodo Dragons can grow up to 3 metres long!

Indonesia’s national animal, the Komodo Dragon is the heavyweight of the lizard world. They weigh a whopping 70kg and grow up to 3 metres long. Although you’ll be relieved to hear that they rarely get this big, you would definitely know about it if you stumbled on one of these guys! 

Komodo dragons sit at the very top of the food chain. They are venomous and secrete toxic proteins through two glands in their lower jaw.  They can eat a remarkable 80% of their body weight in one go (a little like me in McDonald’s) so make sure you keep your distance from one if you don’t want to end up as dinner!

On a serious note, Komodo Dragons rarely kill humans. They are far more likely to raid a tomb than to actively seek out a live person to eat. For this reason, the locals will pile rocks over the graves of their loved ones to make sure they stay undisturbed. 

Unfortunately, the Komodo Dragon has joined a long list of the world’s endangered animals. They are currently classified as vulnerable, mainly due to loss of habitat from human activity. To try to preserve this species, there was recent discussion about closing Komodo Island, however, it was eventually determined that tourists pose no threat to these animals. (Make of that what you will.)

You can only visit Komodo National Park with an official guide as a part of a tour. Multi-day package deals can be expensive, though they do take the stress out of planning. Day tours are also readily available.

2. Anoa

  • Where are they found in the wild: Sulawesi Island.
  • Conservation Status: Endangered.
  • Interesting Fact: Anoa is most closely related to water buffalo which can be found all over Southeast Asia.

Also known as dwarf buffalo, anoa is the smallest buffalo species in the world. There are two main types of anoa, the lowland anoa and the mountain anoa. Both are endemic to Sulawesi island, Eastern Indonesia,  and look like tiny water buffalo. Unlike the water buffalo, the anoa have straight horns which protrude backwards from its face giving the creature a somewhat startled look!

Anoas like to live in undisturbed rainforests but because of the influence of humans, their life in the wild is becoming more and more difficult. Both species of anoa were classified as endangered in the 60s’ and sadly, their population is continuing to decline. This is because of habitat loss and hunting. It is estimated that fewer than 5,000 of them remain in the wild. 

3. Borneo Elephant

  • Where are they found in the wild: Northeastern Borneo (in both Indonesia and Malaysia).
  • Conservation Status: Endangered.
  • Interesting Fact: It was believed that in the 18th century, the Sultan of Sulu introduced captive elephants into Borneo and the Borneo elephant was the remnant of this domesticated herd. However, newer research indicates that they are indigenous to Borneo and were not introduced by humans. 

The Borneo Elephant is the smallest subspecies of the Asian elephant and lives mainly in northeastern Borneo which straddles both Indonesia and Malaysia. They are sometimes referred to as pygmy elephants because they are around a fifth smaller than the Indian elephants which live on the mainland. They have shorter trunks and smaller faces which means that their ears look particularly large. 

The vast majority of these elephants can be found in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain. Back in the 80s’, there were two populations in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah. The elephants were also believed to be present in East Kalimantan. Over recent decades, however, their numbers have plummeted, mainly due to habitat loss from the increasing demand for palm oil and expanding local population. 

Experts think there are now only between 1,000-1,600 Borneo elephants left in the wild, with the largest population calling the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain home. 

4. Crested Black Macaque

  • Where are they found in the wild: The Tangkoko Nature Reserve on the Northeastern tip of the island of Sulawesi (Celebes). 
  • Conservation Status: Critically endangered. 
  • Interesting Fact: A selfie taken by crested black macaque Naruto went viral in 2011 and became the centre of a huge legal battle over whether it was the owner of the camera or the monkey who owned the copyright. It was eventually deemed that as it was the animal that snapped the picture (and they can’t hold the copyright), the photos are in the public domain! 
Black Macaque
These monkeys tend to live for around 15-20 years in the wild.

Also known as black apes or Celebes crested macaques, these monkeys are completely black with a few silver wispy bits on their shoulders and piercing amber eyes. They tend to live for around 15-20 years in the wild. 

Much like other monkeys, they are very sociable and live in large groups. Females usually outnumber males  4:1 and monkeys of both sexes are very promiscuous, having many partners throughout their lifetime. Females give the green light to potential mates by overtly displaying their swollen red buttocks. Get your coat, you’ve pulled!

I know what you’re thinking… with all this bonking going on, how is it that the crested black macaques can be critically endangered? Well, these macaques are actually classified as pests and are hunted for bushmeat. The animals have no fear of humans which makes them very easy to catch. They are then enjoyed as a delicacy (one weird Asian food we won’t be trying!). Much like with other endangered species, loss of habitat also plays a large role. 

In recent years, there has been more of a concerted effort to conserve the status of these cheeky monkeys. Several local groups are working to increase environmental awareness and promote the protection of rare species within the community. Sadly, even though these animals are critically endangered, they still have no protection outside of the Tangkoko Reserve.  

5. Bali Starlings

  • Where are they found in the wild: West Bali National Park, Nusa Penida and the breeding and release site at Melinggih Kelod, Payangan run by the Begawan Foundation.
  • Conservation Status: Critically endangered. 
  • Interesting Fact: Bali starlings mate for life. 
Bali starling
The Bali Starling is one of Indonesia’s most famous birds.

The Bali starling or Bami myna is one of Indonesia’s most famous birds. It is featured on the 200 rupiah coin and in 1991, it was designated as the faunal emblem for the island of Bali. These pretty little birds are known for their white feathers, black wingtips and drooping crest. They also have a distinctive cosmic blue patch around their eyes. 

Bali starlings live far away from the tourist track, mainly in the northwestern part of the island. Sadly, they are critically endangered and fewer than 100 are predicted to live in the wild. This is due to illegal trapping for the caged bird trade and habitat loss. 

These endemic birds put on a wonderful ritual when trying to attract a mate. The male will attempt to catch the eye of the female by raising the crest on top of its head and dancing for her with his beak pointing towards the sky. The performance is finished with hisses, chirps and trills before the tail feathers are fanned open. 

6. Javan Rhinoceros

  • Where are they found in the wild: Ujung Kulon National Park in southwest Java. 
  • Conservation Status: Critically endangered. 
  • Interesting Fact: There are only 74 of these rhinos left in the entire world. 

The Javan Rhinoceros is one of the rarest animals in the world and at the time of writing, there are only 74  of them left. The demand for rhino horn for its use in traditional Chinese medicine has been the main driver of population decline and poaching has already wiped out the species in Vietnam. A horn from one of these rhinos can fetch up to $30,000USD per kilogram on the black market. 

Unlike other rhino species which have two horns, the Javan rhino has just one. When left alone by humans (wishful thinking), these rhinos will live between 30-45 years in the wild. They have no other predators. They typically inhabit wet grasslands, lowland rainforest areas and floodplains. 

After the Asian elephant, they are Indonesia’s second-largest animal, weighing up to 2.3 tonnes! Although the animals were once widespread across Southeast Asia, the only place they can now be found is in Ujung Kulon National Park in southwest Java. 

7. Sumatran Tiger

  • Where are they found in the wild: The island of Sumatra in both Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and Gunung Leuser National Park. 
  • Conservation Status: Critically endangered. 
  • Interesting Fact: A group of tigers is known as a ‘streak’ or ‘ambush’. 
Sumatran Tiger
The Sumatran tiger is critically endangered.

Sumatran tigers are the smallest of the five subspecies of tiger and also have the narrowest black stripes. This is so that they can easily blend into the thick vegetation which characterises their jungle environment.

Unfortunately, like most of the animals on this list, they are critically endangered and their numbers are rapidly dropping. The palm oil trade in Indonesia is having a huge impact on the local wildlife and we are seeing rapidly decreasing numbers of wild creatures as a result. Land being converted into rubber plantations is also having an effect as well as illegal poaching.

Although we are nearing crunch time for the future of the Sumatran tiger, both local charities and international organisations are working hard to bring this species back from the brink. In the 10 years between 2005 and 2015, around $210 million USD has been poured into tiger law enforcement which aims to double the number of wild tigers by 2020. The impact of this is yet to be assessed, presumably because of delays relating to the pandemic. 

8. Maleo

  • Where are they found in the wild: The islands of Sulawesi and Buton. 
  • Conservation Status: Endangered. 
  • Interesting Fact: The maleo is around the size of a chicken, however, it lays eggs up to five times larger!

The maleo is a bird endemic to Sulawesi which is notable for its strange appearance. These birds stand between 55-60cm long and are predominantly black with bright yellow faces and reddish beaks. 

They live in the hill forests and tropical lowland areas but nest on open beaches or in volcanic soils. By choosing such warm nesting spots, the maleo does not incubate the eggs herself and can instead leave them. When the chicks hatch, they are completely independent and ready to take on the world! 

Maleo is an endangered species, mainly due to habitat loss and egg poaching. There are currently only four out of 142 breeding grounds that are considered to be unthreatened. To enable breeding, a stretch of beach was recently purchased for around $12,500USD. The beach is now owned by Pelestari Alan Liar dan Satwa (PALS) who are a local conservation group. 

9. Proboscis Monkey

  • Where are they found in the wild: Borneo.  
  • Conservation Status: Endangered. 
  • Interesting Fact: A male proboscis monkey’s nose can grow to longer than 10cm! It is theorised that there could be a link between larger nose size and sexual desirability to the opposite sex. Who says having a big nose is bad?!
13 Unique Indonesian Animals
The Proboscis monkey is endemic to Borneo.

Endemic to the island of Borneo, the proboscis monkey is most recognisable for its strange bulbous nose. The creatures are reddish-orange and also have a long tail, great for helping them navigate the high treetops of the jungle. 

Thanks to having webbed feet and hands, the proboscis monkey is one of the world’s best swimmers. They are known for their rather comical belly flop which they do after leaping into the water from the trees. Predators of these monkeys include crocodiles and monitor lizards. With this in mind, it is easy to see why the proboscis monkeys’ uncanny swimming abilities are very useful!

Sadly, the odds are stacked against the proboscis monkeys. Their populations have declined by more than 50% in the last 40 years due to habitat loss, being hunted for food and use in Chinese medicine. These monkeys are protected by law across Borneo and the largest of populations remain in Kalimantan, with a few in Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak. Many travellers catch a glimpse of these monkeys at Bako National Park which is just outside of Kuching, Sarawak. 

10. Pygmy Tarsier

  • Where are they found in the wild: Sulawesi.  
  • Conservation Status: Endangered. 
  • Interesting Fact: Although these animals appear to have no necks, they can turn their head around as far as 180 degrees!

Introducing Indonesia’s smallest primate species, the pygmy tarsier. These nocturnal fluffballs are around 100mm (4 inches) in length and live in the lowland tropical forests of Central Sulawesi. 

They are so inconspicuous, that humans actually thought they were extinct until some Indonesian scientists accidentally killed some whilst trapping rats (every cloud I guess…). Since their rediscovery in 2000, three have been seen by a group of researchers who spotted them on Mount Rore Katimbo un Lore Lindu  National Park. These were later captured and radio-collared before being re-released into the wild. 

Tarsiers are vital to the food chain and they are relied upon to keep the insect population in check. If they are attacked, all of the nearby tarsiers will unite to fight off the predator. 

Although this species of tarsier is classified as endangered, other sources claim that due to the small amount of them which have been studied, there really isn’t enough data to determine their conservation status. 

11. Babirusa

Picture a cross between a pig and a deer and you are pretty close to imagining what the babirusa looks like. Although these creatures are wild members of the pig family (meaning they aren’t domesticated, not that they throw crazy parties on weeknights), their legs resemble that of a deer. They also have two-chambered stomachs which are more similar to the digestive system of a sheep.

It is their intimidating tusks that you first notice and although it would be logical to assume that these are used for fighting, babirusa doesn’t hook tusks. Instead, they stand on their hind legs and box each other. Mike Tyson eat your heart out!

Babirusas are protected across Indonesia, however, poaching is still a significant problem. Commercial logging also threatens their population as it reduces their habitat and therefore, exposes them to poachers. 

12. Sumatran Orangutan

  • Where are they found in the wild: The island of Sumatra.
  • Conservation Status: Critically endangered. 
  • Interesting Fact: ‘Orangutan’ is derived from the Malay word, meaning ‘person of the forest’. 
Orangutan
The wonderful Sumatran orangutan.

Undoubtedly one of Indonesia’s most famous animals is the Sumatran orangutan. Known for their shaggy orange fur and almost human-like temperament, these animals are truly enchanting. Sumatran orangutans are remarkably intelligent and have even been observed using tools!

These orangutans are mainly frugivores, which means that their diet consists mostly of fruit, although they do eat insects too. They are great at dispersing seeds and without them, it is estimated that we would lose several different tree species. 

As you may already know if you have seen the banned Iceland Christmas advert (and if you haven’t seen it, look it up on YouTube), the habitat of the orangutans is being devastated by the increasing demand for palm oil. 

Despite this, calls are being made for change and action is being taken. Orangutans that have been rescued from the illegal trade or previously kept as pets are being reintroduced into the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park. Much to the delight of conservationists, these animals are also reproducing. 

One of the most popular places for travellers to see these remarkable animals is in Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra which can be reached from the popular tourist destination of Bukit Lawang. If you are considering going jungle trekking in Bukit Lawang for a chance to spot orangutans,  make sure you choose your tour provider carefully to ensure you go with an eco-conscious organisation that has the welfare of these animals at the core of what they do.

13. Sunda Clouded Leopard

  • Where are they found in the wild: The islands of Borneo and Sumatra. 
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable. 
  • Interesting Fact: Indonesians call the Sunda clouded leopard, rimau-dahan. It translates to ‘tree tiger’, coined because they are such skilled climbers. 

This medium-sized wild cat is known for its greyish-yellow colouring and cloud-shaped markings. It is a solitary nocturnal predator and for this reason,  is very difficult to spot in the wild. It lives on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra and is a separate species to the type of clouded leopard which is found across mainland Southeast Asia. 

These wild cats are hugely talented climbers. They can descend vertical tree trunks headfirst and easily scale branches using their long tails to steer themselves. The scientific name for the Sunda clouded leopard is Neofelis diardi which is a composite of the Greek word νεο. This means strange and new. The Latin word feles means cat, coming together to translate to ‘new cat’. 

It is estimated the population size of these cats lies somewhere around the 10,000 mark. They are currently classed as vulnerable and their numbers are sadly decreasing, thanks to deforestation and illegal logging. Forest fires and poaching are also threatening their population security. 

Have you seen any cool animals native to Indonesia that aren’t on this list? Let us know in the comments!

Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South East Asia Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind Winging The World, a blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks. In recent years, Sheree has also taken on the role of editor at South East Asia Backpacker.

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