Wildlife in Laos - A Valued Treasure

Wildlife conservation can be a tricky task. Creating a link between conservation and tourism is a promising way to accomplish this goal. This is precisely what the Nam Nern Night Safari in the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area (NPA) in the Houaphan Province is doing since it was established in 2010. The eco-tourism initiative has a positive impact on the local population, because the tour is managed and operated by local people and offers incentives for the villagers to protect wildlife. Moreover, the tour price includes a fee for a village development fund which is shared equally between 14 villages surrounding the National Park Area. The amount of money received by villages depends on the kind and numbers of wildlife seen by tourists . The income from the fees allows the villages to finance small-scale village development activities.


A German student joined the Night Safari in October 2016 and was impressed by this concept and the exceptional nature experience. “The pitch-black night surrounded us like a soft veil and we could clearly see millions of stars twinkling above us. Aside from the soothing murmur of the water and the chirping of crickets we couldn’t hear a sound. It was such a peaceful and calming atmosphere”, she described her experience. “My friend and I were comfortably riding a long-tail boat, drifting downstream on the Nam Nern River. Thanks to the tour guide’s experience we saw lizards, civets, owls and even spotted a samba deer hiding in the thicket. We spend a wonderful time in the national park and at the eco-lodge”, she explained. No wonder this eco-tourism attraction won the prestigious World Responsible Tourism Award in 2013 and 2014.

Such statements illustrate why many people value nature and wildlife as a treasure. They are a case in point for the second of five articles about wildlife conservation in Laos in Vientiane Times. This article focuses on the situation of wildlife in the country and what puts wild animals and plants in danger.


Lao people cherish wildlife for many reasons


Wildlife is cherished by Lao people for many reasons. Wild animals and plants offer a source of food and nutrition for people in rural and remote areas. A major staple food in Laos is fish supplied by lakes and rivers. Wildlife also provides the population of Laos with tools, clothes and medicine. For ages, medicinal plants have been used to treat diseases. Traditional knowledge about medicinal plants and herbal remedies has been transmitted verbally from one generation to the next and written down in mulberry paper books and palm leave manuscripts. These documents are kept in Buddhist temples, the National Library of Laos and the Traditional Medicine Research Center of the Ministry of Public Health. Elder monks still pass down their wildlife-based knowledge about traditional medicine to young monks in many Buddhist temples. A weed that often grows on forest edges and grasslands called Bai nat or Gok nat (Blumea balsamifera) is widely used in Laos and all over Asia. It can be applied for rheumatism, arthritis, skin diseases, breathing problems and also as postpartum remedy. The flowers and leaves of Hibiscus (in Akha language ajene) can be used to treat stomach ache and diarrhea.

Traditional medicinal knowledge is often passed on out of pure necessity, because rural areas highly depend on it. The majority of people in Laos have limited or no access to modern medicine, clinics or health centers. Aside from easier access, traditional medicine is also less expensive than Western pharmaceuticals.


Wildlife in Laos is in danger


Despite the mentioned appreciation of wildlife and its value, many species in Laos are already extinct or close to extinction. Especially the fate of the Laotian Elephants illustrates the dramatic trend in wildlife loss. “I hope that my grandchildren will still have a chance to witness elephants in the wild in Laos. My country was once known as the Kingdom of One Million Elephants (Lan Xang). But it is estimated that less than 1.000 wild elephants live in Laos today”, says Vannaphone Sitthirath, media coordinator of the Lao-German ProCEEd project.


During a survey conducted by ProCEEd, young women in a remote Houaphan district observed “We used to see a lot of deer and wild pigs crossing our village. But no more”. Old men in the same district agreed “There are less wild animals today. We used to hunt for food, so that some species are gone". Young men in a Sayaboury district confirmed a similar trend "We hunt wild animals until there is nothing left".


The reasons for such a decline of wild animals and plants are mostly caused by humans: deforestation, poaching, large-development projects, agriculture and the expansion of human settlements. The resulting habitat loss and damaged ecosystems do not only endanger wildlife, but also the livelihoods of rural families who depend on nature's wild resources. In comparison, hunting for villagers' own consumption plays a minor role in wildlife loss.




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