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An overview of recent conservation efforts at Khao Nor Chuchi, southern Thailand
The forests of Khao Nor Chuchi are the last significant fragment of lowland rainforest in Southern Thailand. They support a large number of species that are rare or no longer occur in other protected areas in the country. Following the rediscovery of Gurney's Pitta at Khao Nor Chuchi in 1986, a Non-Hunting Area (NHA) was established in 1987. This was up-graded to a Wildlife Sanctuary (WS) in 1993. Unfortunately, the most extensive and important area of lowland forest was excluded from the NHA and WS, due to the existence of a small and scattered rural human population in the area. Most of the lowland forest outside of the WS is protected as National Reserve Forest (NRF). At the time of its establishment, the WS provided protection for no more than five pairs of Gurney's Pitta, with a further 16 pairs occurring in the NRF.
The Royal Forest Department (RFD) moved rapidly to put in place protected area staff with a headquarters and guard posts. BirdLife assisted with funding for the establishment of reserve infrastructure, training and provision of equipment (including vehicles), and establishment of a nature trails network and information center. To build community support for the WS, and address the severe pressures in the NRF, awareness and community development programmes were launched. Early conservation efforts by BirdLife were supported by a variety of donors including the British Overseas Administration and Children's Tropical Forests.
Recent conservation efforts
From September 1995 until May 1999, conservation efforts were supported by the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy (DANCED Programme), and managed on behalf of DANCED by the Danish Ornithological Society/BirdLife Denmark (DOF). The project was implemented by the Center for Conservation Biology of Mahidol University in collaboration with RFD.
The project had the following objectives in support of forest conservation activities in the area: (I) Strengthening of the capacity of the RFD in law enforcement in the WS and NRF; (2) Adoption of sustainable agriculture by farmers in the project area; (3) Community participation in habitat management and conservation; and (4) Increased advocacy for conservation at Khao Nor Chuchi. A grant of 10.4 million Danish Krone (ca. US $1.5 million, at August 1999 exchange rates) was provided by DANCED. The project was guided and advanced by a Project Steering Committee (PSC) chaired by the Deputy Director of the RFD. At the provincial and local level this function was served by the Conservation Management Board (CMB) chaired by the Deputy Governor of Krabi Province. Senior-level government personnel, as well as community representatives, were closely involved in project implementation.
The following is a summary of the main project achievements:
1. Strengthening of the capacity of the RFD in law enforcement in the WS and NRF.
Under the project, the Forest Engineering Division of RFD has completed a detailed and comprehensive land-use and forest cover map for the area. Individual households and clearings were mapped (and 'owners' identified), along with NRF, WS and political boundaries and nature trails. Locality data for key indicator species WERE also plotted. The maps and data are an invaluable basis for conservation planning and monitoring. The data are available in digital and hard copy form, and are now held by national, regional and district decision-makers. The map and data base is possibly the most detailed and comprehensive for any protected area in south-east Asia.
Very significantly, the boundaries of the NRF and WS WERE demarcated, with community participation, at 100m intervals, with concrete posts. There is therefore no longer any doubt about the location of the protected forest. To assist with protection measures, a support programme was provided for WS staff which included the provision of equipment (including radios), training courses and study tours (to reserves in northern Thailand and Malaysia), and a per diem for temporary workers. As a basis for monitoring, decision-making and protection efforts, regular and comprehensive encroachment reports were prepared.
As a result there was a marked improvement in protection efforts, although project outputs were insufficient to halt forest encroachment (see below).
2. Adoption of sustainable agriculture by farmers in the project area.
This was advanced through the establishment of demonstration plots for small livestock (including fish, chicken, pig and frog rearing), fruit-growing and other agro-forestry options (e.gunder-planting of rubber with other crops), as well as organic vegetable-growing. This was supported by a tree-nursery (which has distributed over 160,000 seedlings), facilitation of farmers groups, training courses, manuals and study tours, and most significantly a Revolving Loan Fund. In connection with the Fund, savings groups have been established in four villages.
During the course of the project, the number of households implementing some elements of sustainable agriculture increased from 49 to 102. The Revolving Loan Fund, managed by a sub-committee of the CMB (see below), dispersed 59 loans totaling over 600,000 Baht (US $16,500). Sixty percent of the loans were used in accordance with the operating principles of the fund (an acceptable level compared with similar funds elsewhere. As money is repaid, further grants will be issued.
The project has also sought to develop non-agricultural sources of income, especially the development of ecotourism. A detailed ecotourism plan was developed by a consultant from Kasetsart University, Bangkok. A study tour was organized to look at successful operations elsewhere in Thailand, and during the course of the project an ecotourism club was established by the villagers. Despite facilities being available, the number of visitors staying in the area has remained small and it is regrettable that foreign tourists have increasingly stayed outside the area. At best, a few families have been able to supplement their income from ecotourism.
In summary, a wide range of alternatives for income generation have been demonstrated and adopted; however the benefits continued to be far outweighed by the gains to be had from planting rubber and oil-palm and clearing, and 'trading' in, forested land.
3. Community participation in habitat management and conservation
An important achievement of the project was the establishment of a Conservation Management Board (CMB) which brought together community representatives, and representatives of the main government agencies, to oversee and advise on the implementation of project activities. An executive committee of the CMB was established, and this drafted a management plan for the lowland areas (forest and cleared land) which is mainly inside the NRF. Preparation of the plan included a workshop attended by 60 people. It provides a plan for zoning of land inside the NRF, and most significantly proposes that the most important areas of forest be eventually included in the WS. The plan was presented to the TOA (District Administrative Organization), which has authority over the project area, and was accepted. The management plan provides an important basis for a next phase of the project.
To encourage community support for conservation, as well as an understanding of the project, a wide range of education and awareness materials were produced. Information centres were established at the WS, and at two local schools, The project also produced a slide-set and a community newsletter, gave environmental seminars at local schools and community bodies, and held camps for school children and teachers. Two study tours were organized for villagers, community leaders, and local government officials to conservation and watershed projects in Northern Thailand.
4. Increased advocacy for conservation at Khao Nor Chuchi
Project staff and supporters never ceased to take the opportunity to advocate conservation of the area. Project staff frequently met with senior officials at district, provincial and national level. To underpin this, there was a twice-monthly broadcast on local radio from December 1998 onwards. The project received regular newspaper coverage, and press and media excursions were organized to visit problem areas on two occasions. A one-hour programme on Khao Nor Chuchi was aired on national Thai television on Constitution Day; this has subsequently been adapted as a video in Thai and English (and can be ordered from DOF-BirdLife Denmark [email@example.com].
Overview of current conservation situation
Despite the apparent success of project activities, and the remarkable commitment shown by government and project staff, conservation activities have ultimately not been successful in stemming the process of forest clearance for rubber and oil palm. This has, and continues to be, the primary motivation for land-use change in Southern Thailand over the last three decades, backed by government incentives. In addition, but much less significant, has been the continuation of small-scale illegal logging and hunting of wildlife. From April 1996 to April 1999, 2540 rai (406 ha) of the critical lowland forest in the project area, comprising 163 plots, was cleared or encroached by planters. Most of this clearance was in the NRF (around 20 % was in the WS). There is no doubt that this process of clearance will continue. Since 1992, the population of Gurney's Pitta in the project area has declined from ca. 21 pairs to 10-12 pairs (with further pairs lost from surrounding areas). Efforts to reforest and prevent planting of cleared areas have not been successful.
In summary, It has not proved possible, despite the efforts of RFD, commitment of provincial and local government officials and project activities, to address the underlying economic and socio-political forces at work in the project area. Government policy and law enforcement (especially relating to the NRF) have been inadequate. NGO-lead initiatives have failed so far to change the underlying economic situation nor alter the attitudes and motivation of key stake-holders.
There have been numerous concerns circulating the Internet about specific threats to Gurney's Pitta from persecution and trapping, etc. Occasional opportunistic trapping of birds may continue to pose a secondary threat, but there is no evidence of any recent intensification of these activities (although the risk must be greater now project activities have ceased at the site). There is no doubt that the primary cause of decline in the numbers of Gurney's Pitta continues to be loss of habitat.
Future of conservation efforts for Khao Nor Chuchi
The above-mentioned project ceased on 31 May 1999. Recognizing some important achievements of the project, the DANCED programme in Thailand is interested to continue to fund conservation at Khao Nor Chuchi under its bilateral country programme (i.e., through providing direct support to the Thai government).
At the final Project Steering Committee meeting on 13th June 1999, members were informed that the RFD had submitted a follow-up project to DANCED which concentrated on the WS. It was agreed that this should be combined with the Management Plan for the surrounding NRF which has been prepared by the CMB. This is essential if the remaining lowland forest is to be conserved and the successes of the first phase of the DANCED project are to be built on. A partnership between RFD and local and provincial authorities is necessary to address the conservation issues in the area.
Khao Nor Chuchi was one of five possible integrated conservation and development projects submitted to DANCED by Thai government (Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives) representatives during a meeting in Copenhagen in July 1999. Further country agreement discussions will be continued with DANCED representatives in October 1999 in Bangkok.
If accepted by DANCED, a follow-up project would probably take six months to one year to be formulated and appraised. In the meantime, it is expected that the forest will come under increased, possibly severe, pressure from encroachment during the next dry season (October 1999 to April 2000).
At the Steering Committee meeting RFD confirmed their intention to maintain and enhance forest patrolling and enforcement measures, although it is essential that these embrace the NRF as well as the WS. The Province has confirmed its intention to continue with the CMB and to advance implementation of the Management Plan. The Center for Conservation Biology (CCB, Mahidol University), Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST), and BirdLife International (led by DOF) will continue to encourage development of a second-phase DANCED-funded project. They will also support monthly monitoring visits and a three-monthly review of encroachment. Further action will be taken if encroachment continues.
The conservation measures for the area are clear and need to be in the forefront of peoples' minds at this time:
(1) The process of further forest clearance in the WS and NRF has to be stopped by government agencies, and through law enforcement, since the remaining area of lowland forest is now very small and the situation facing Gurney's Pitta is critical. Any land that is newly cleared or otherwise encroached should be immediately reclaimed and replanted with native forest species.
(2) Land inside the WS sanctuary cleared since 1st September 1995 (when villagers/farmers representatives agreed that there should be no further land clearance) should be reclaimed.
(3) The Management Plan of the CMB should be finalized and implemented. The zoning proposed in plan should be marked on the ground, and a strategy for extending the WS (as proposed in the plan) should be agreed with the community and then implemented.
(4) A strategy needs to be developed and implemented to move people out of the WS (and areas of remaining NRF that are proposed by the CMB for eventual inclusion in the WS). Alternative areas of land and a compensation package needs to be provided. (This would apply only to clearance prior to 1st September 1995).
(5) Preferential development assistance should be provided by the Government of Thailand for villages in the vicinity of Khao Nor Chuchi in recognition of the forest conservation objectives in the area.
The Center for Conservation Biology (Mahidol University), Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST), and BirdLife International will review the situation, including changes on the ground at Khao Nor Chuchi, on a regular basis. The forthcoming BirdLife International World Conference, to be held in Malaysia in October 1999, represents an opportunity for the entire global partnership of BirdLife to review the situation and consider additional measures.
The full project closing report will shortly be available on the Internet [http://www.dof.dk], along with other key documents on Khao Nor Chuchi. Information on the situation can also be viewed on the Project Web Site.
Dansk Ornitologisk Forening-BirdLife Denmark
(Anita Pedersen, Head of International Department, DOF-BirdLife Denmark)
(Richard Grimmett, Senior Program Officer, Asia Division)
Center for Conservation Biology, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University
(Dr. Samaisukh Sophasan, KNCP Senior Adviser)
(Philip Round, KNCP Project Manager)