Posts Tagged ‘Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary’
Colossal limestone massifs in Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary, Surat Thani province, southern Thailand.
Down in southern Thailand, the Khlong Saeng River flows from the Phuket Mountain Range into the Gulf of Thailand at Surat Thani province on the eastern side of the peninsula. Up in the highlands, many tributary streams flow into the Rajaprabha Dam (formally know as the Cheiw Larn Dam) permanently flooding this forest in the upper reaches of this once magnificent biosphere. Some of that natural heritage still remains to this day.
Khlong Saeng is part of the Khlong Saeng-Khao Sok Forest Complex that has been a protected area since 1974 way before the destructive dam was constructed on the river in the 1980s. This large waterway flows east known as the Mae Nam Tapee flowing through the city of Surat Thani. The watershed is an immense wet tropical rainforest with many wild Sundaic and Himalayan species still thriving here.
Colossal limestone massifs some as tall as 900 meters rise up from the reservoir and dominate the landscape. These were laid down more than 200 million years ago during the mid to late Permian. Then they were thrust up when India crashed into the Asian plate that began 50 million years ago. The Indian plate had separated from the ancient continent of Gondwanaland and moved north on a tetonic plate resulting in the formation of the Himalayas and causing a north-south uplift across Southeast Asia in a ripple effect.
Unfortunately, the tiger and the leopard have already disappeared from the sanctuary but many other beautiful predators such as clouded leopard, golden cat and marbled cat still thrive here. This habitat unfortunately has been seriously degraded by the construction of the dam. However, some of this forest still harbor rare and unique Asian creatures like tapir, gaur, elephant and the magnificent Argus pheasant that continue to thrive in the thick vegetation made up primarily of moist evergreen forest.
There is a permanent reservoir 60 kilometers long and 20 kilometer at its widest point, and dammed near the Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary headquarters. Many people live on floating rafts and fishing is allowed. However, some fisherman in the past used devious methods like electricity or explosives plus trap-lines to catch fish and stocks plummeted. The Fisheries Department regularly release certain species to boost the local economy. Next door to Khlong Saeng is the world famous Khao Sok National Park. However, this has been very detrimental to the environment with extreme tourism that seems to be increasingly damaging to the biosphere.
There are many noisy boats and loads of tourists that visit Khao Sok National Park everyday next door. The Department of National Parks (DNP) manage the lake, and due to poor policies and low budgets, has had an enormous impact on the wildlife and ecosystems in the Khlong Saeng valley. The Electrical Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) who own the dam unfortunately gave responsibility to oversee the reservoir to Khao Sok. The national park’s mandate is to get as many people in as possible and make money for the park and its officials, and the local venders. Protection and enforcement is not part of their program. This of course has had a serious impact on the scheme of things.
In Early 2013, I became friends with Greg McCann with Habitat I.D. on Facebook. We decided to do a camera trap survey in the forests of Khlong Saeng as I knew it well having worked there photographing wildlife for two years in 2008-2009. It took us sometime to put a program together but we finally made the first foray into this forbidding and mysterious forest back in July of 2014. Habitat I.D. provided four Bushnell Trophy Cam (video/stills) camera traps plus some financial funding. I also threw in three Bushnell cams and a Nikon D90 DSLR cam.
In September 2014, I went back to Khlong Saeng to check our camera traps and make an assessment of this forest and its inhabitants. It was the middle of the rainy season and the water level in the lake was full. Accompanied by rangers from the sanctuary and research station, we moved up into the forest and serviced all the cams changing out batteries, memory cards and desiccant (silica gel). All the cams were left in place to further record any animal traffic on the wildlife trails down several ridge lines.
After downloading all the cards, imagine my excitement to find so many rare animals on video including elephants, tapir, clouded leopard, golden cat, sambar, Fea’s muntjac and common muntjac plus many others. My DSLR Nikon D90 produced an amazing shot of a clouded leopard.
In mid-January 2015, I made my 2nd visit to Khlong Saeng as scheduled to close-out the camera trap program. Once again this forest did not disappoint. Due to problems with flash on my Nikon D90, I changed it out for a Canon 400D with three flashes. I got some terrific shots of an old female tapir (she looks pregnant) that was totally unexpected on the Canon, plus some absolutely amazing behavioral videos of Argus pheasant. This beautiful creature did ‘wing displays’ in front of a Bushnell Trophy HD Cam and video quality is quite good as this bird came in daylight. In the future, I will be setting higher quality video cams here again as it looks like this male uses this opening in the forest for his display area…!
Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary needs new direction in management plus better protection and enforcement. However, it’s doubtful that any major changes will happen anytime soon. Making money has taken precedence over everything else and that alone will be its downfall. After years of abuse, the future is uncertain as we move into the 21st Century. These wonderful animals and ecosystems are in serious jeopardy…!
Some old camera trap shots of wildlife in Southern Thailand
Limestone ‘karst’ mountains at sunset in Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary.
In 2009, I decided to go down south to a wildlife sanctuary that was still teaming with animals common to the wet tropical forests found here. Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Surat Thani province is some 500 miles from Bangkok and is one of the top protected areas in the country.
Flooded forest near the headwaters deep in Khlong Saeng.
Once upon a time, this forest was a magnificent natural watershed that provided water throughout the year to the inhabitants of the lowlands on the eastern side of the Thai peninsula.
Clouded leopard at the entrance to a limestone cave probably searching for dead bats.
It still harbors some very impressive animals such as elephant, gaur, tapir, serow, sambar, clouded leopard, sun bear, Great Argus (second largest of the pheasant family in Thailand), and the mighty king cobra to name just a few – and the list goes on.
A serow (goat-antelope) at the same cave.
Probably the most impressive scenic site in the sanctuary are the massive limestone ‘karst’ formations that were formed sometime during the mid to late Permian over 200 million years ago. Thailand was part of Gondwanaland that was still attached to Pangaea, the ‘Supercontinent’.
A serow at another location at the top of a limestone ‘karst’ mountain.
These colossal outcrops, some reaching as high as 960 meters (3,150 feet), look almost ‘architectural’ in design. These configurations were thrust up when India crashed into the Asian plate some 60 million years ago, and are the remnants of a prehistoric coral reef that once thrived here.
An old tapir up near a cave at the top of a limestone massif.
But in the mid-1980s, a drastic change to the Pasaeng River was to come about. To increase Thailand’s electrical power needs, and back when building hydroelectric dams was in vogue, it was decided by the Electrical Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), a state enterprise, and the government, to construct the Rajaprabha Dam that eventually inundated a total of 165 square kilometers (65 sq. miles) of the Khlong Saeng valley to become the Chiew Larn reservoir in 1986.
A tapir calf with its mother in the forest near the headwaters.
The water body extends into the sanctuary for more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) but is only about two kilometers at its widest point. As the reservoir filled up, thousands and thousands of trees and animals perished in the rising waters. It was destruction of a natural habitat in the name of modernization.
A tapir with clipped ears; probably nipped by a mature female chasing the young one out.
Awhile back, my friend Greg McCann, founder of ‘Habitat ID,’ a NGO setup to investigate forests in Southeast Asia contacted me. He was interested in starting a camera trap program somewhere in Thailand and Khlong Saeng was chosen as the first forest to see what is still thriving there.
A gaur calf on the trail up on a limestone mountain.
We have just returned from the sanctuary where eight cameras including one DSLR (Nikon D90), a Sony W55 ‘home brew’ and six Bushnell Trophy Cams were set-up in some of the areas where I previously captured some amazing animals.
A very old bull gaur with its hooves in poor condition…!
We will let these cams soak for two-three months and I will be going back then to see what has transpired. It should be interesting…!
A couple of young gaur in the mountainous forest.
When I first began visiting the area, I took my boat-blind (kayak with pontoons and electric trolling motor as a stable shooting platform) to navigate the waters and shoreline.
Another young gaur on a trail up in the limestone mountains.
Over the course of two years, I was able to get some really neat images of the wildlife that had adapted to the new environment. I also began a camera trap program to see what cryptic animals were thriving up in the evergreen forest.
A mature sambar stag on a trail in the forest.
A mature male muntjac (barking deer) on a wildlife trail.
A female muntjac with white spots along the spine and rear torso: a strange anomaly…!
A stump-tail macaque (monkey) up in the limestone crags with its jowls full of food.
An Argus pheasant at the mouth of a cave.
This gallery of shots is just some of the creatures collected over a two-year period (2009-2010). Some of these images are not the greatest but do show the biodiversity of this amazing place. I plan on setting up several DSLRs at these old camera trap locations and will post any new images down the road. Enjoy…!