Police getting tough in protection of Khao Yai
Written by: Krisakorn Wongkorawutl
While many leading expatriate conservationists based in Thailand have expressed concern over the recent awarding of UNESCO Natural World Heritage Status to the Khao Yai Forest Complex, and the Head of the Thai World Heritage Committee has suggested that if the Government goes ahead with plans for two dams in the complex it should immediately be put on the list of “World Heritage Sites in Danger” it is clear that in a country such as Thailand, the World Heritage designation can leverage significant supportive action from a wide variety of government and non-government actors.
The ink had hardly dried on the announcement, when Thailand's Central Investigation Bureau (which overseas the Forestry Police, the Highways Police and the Tourist Police) invited a wide range of stakeholders to a two day workshop at Khao Yai National Park on 15-16 August to discuss improved law enforcement, tourism management and visitor safety in the Khao Yai complex.The workshop was well attended by international and local NGOs including WWF, Wild Aid, and Wildlife Fund Thailand; Park Management officials; representatives from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and a number of Tour Operators (domestic and inbound) and the media, as well as the three branches of the police and the CIB.
Police Major General Wuthi Liptapallop, Deputy Commissioner of the CIB, the driving force behind the workshop, emphasized the need to involve all stakeholders in management of the complex, particularly local communities, in line with Article 46 of the Constitution, recognizing the rights and responsibilities of local communities in resource management. WWF's Robert Mather pointed out that ultimately this requires the National Parks Law to be updated; parks management institutions to be reformed (including the establishment of site committees) and management planning processes to be opened up to stakeholders.The workshop split into three working groups focusing on:
- Park Management
- Law Enforcement – particularly with regard to incense wood and wildlife poaching
- Tourism management
It was concluded that there should be an overall National Plan and clear national Policy for the country's protected area system, as well as individual site plans for each protected area, which should be developed in a participatory process with stakeholder involvement. Planning should be informed by the results of surveys and research (which in turn requires more support and promotion). Adequate manpower and budgets for implementation must follow from the proper planning process. Vehicle traffic along roads in the complex should be studied, and managed in an appropriate manner. Any proposed dams or other development projects should be subject to proper and transparent EIA processes. The problem of forest fire should be addressed through greater involvement of communities in fire prevention and management. The need for individual superintendents to need to rely on their own judgment for a wide range of issues should be reduced, while the involvement of site committee members in decision-making should be increased. Boundary demarcation should be conducted in a participatory manner with local communities. Coordination between different agencies must be enhanced through inter-agency bodies. Better understanding of the problem of the introduction of alien species is necessary. The changing behaviour of wildlife (eg gaur feeding outside the park at Khao Peng Ma) needs to be studied in case it leads to problems with local communities and/or increased hunting.
Illegal wildlife trade must be addressed through more effective law enforcement, coupled with education and outreach work. There is a strong incentive for incense wood poaching as prices are very high, and punishment for those caught is quite limited. Many incense wood collectors are from Cambodia . Distilleries are located on the edge of the forest complex, and are difficult to shut down because they legally import and process at least some incense wood from abroad. Many exporters are found in Sukhumvit Soi 3. A number of measures were suggested, including increasing penalties; educating the judiciary; working with the Ministry of Industry to zone incense wood distilleries away from the parks; increasing village plantations of incense wood trees and establishing a central coordinating body for enforcement efforts of the different agencies.Wild meat trade in restaurants around the complex also needs to be addressed more effectively. Some ex-poachers should be trained and offered jobs as tour guides.
It was agreed by park staff, TAT and tour operators that generally inbound foreign tourists understand how to behave appropriately in national parks, much more so than most of the large groups of Thai domestic tourists, who mostly come to drink and enjoy themselves without any real desire to learn about nature. Recently the superintendent Khun Prawat Wohandee has attempted to impose and alcohol ban throughout the park, and a “lights-out” time at the camp site. It was suggested that a zoning scheme could be enforced to allow different types of tourists access to different parts of the park, with different entrance fee structures. It was also suggested that TAT should instigate a special “World Heritage Guide” qualification and tour guide badge and that tour companies should only use these specialist tour guides (this is comparable to for example the Grand Palace/Temple of the Emerald Buddha were a specialist tour guide badge is also required to lead groups). In addition The superintendent would like a new visitor centre to be located outside the park boundary where sale of local products and provision of other services could help provide income opportunities for local people.
It was also agreed by all that mechanisms have to be developed to control visitor numbers within the carrying capacity especially on Thai public holidays, and that income generated in gate receipts by the park (currently around 38 million baht/year) should not have to be sent to the central office in Bangkok, but should be kept in the area to improve park management and contribute to local livelihood development projects.