Posts Tagged ‘protected area’
Thailand’s amazing forest with some beautiful, elusive and rare Asian creatures
Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in central western Thailand, and is a World Heritage Site. It is the top protected area in the Kingdom. In January 2012, I began a camera trap program to determine the status of wildlife found here. In just a short two months, all the large mammals including elephant, gaur, banteng, tapir, tiger, leopard and many others have been caught by ‘homebrew’ digital camera traps set at various mineral deposits, water holes and game trails situated in the interior of the sanctuary. I have ten trail cams working through till March 31st, 2012. These are the best series. The following photos shows this amazing biodiversity, and this place is truly worthy of its ‘World Heritage Site’ status.
Set-up Number 1: A S600/1010/SSI was set above a water hole close to a ranger station. This cam turned out the most wildlife photos over a two month period. This mineral deposit and waterhole is visited daily by many animals and is one of the best in the sanctuary.
A Sony S600/Pelican 1010/SSI in an ‘Elephant proof ‘ box with a ‘Python’ locking cable
Mature female tiger
Tiger follow-up shot
Young tusker elephant in a herd
Mature gaur bull
Mature banteng bull
Younger banteng bulls
Mature banteng cow
Banteng cow close-up
Set-up Number 2: Another S600/1010/SSI was set close to the ranger station and a bag of large rotten fish heads was strung up to prevent being taken by a scavenger like a water monitor. Amazingly, a leopard and a big wild boar, both scavengers, came to the bait. The bag can be seen in the boar picture. Boy did it smell..!
S600/1010/SSI in ‘elephant proof’ box with python locking cable.
Leopard male in the stream attracted by the ‘fish head’ bait.
Wild boar hoping for some carrion.
A crab-eating mongoose in the stream after the bait had been cut down.
Set-up Number 3: An old Sony S600/1040/BFOutdoors/2 ‘C’ cell externals in an ‘elephant proof’ box and ‘Python’ locking cable with 3D camouflage was used to catch this tiger mother and her cub (also caught by Bushnell Trophy Cam video twenty meters away). Other shots collected from this cam were deer at night not included here.
Sony S600 in a Pelican 1040 and BFOutdoors board with 2 ‘C’ cell externals
Tiger mother caught close to Subkaow mineral deposit and water hole
‘Eye of a tiger’ as this young cub has a chew on the cam…remarkable shot…!
Set-up Number 4: An older S600 with a Yeticam board in a 2nd generation LBK aluminum boxed cam plus tools for installation. Tiger, tapir and a sambar stag came along this trail about a day’s walk from the ranger station I stay at. This site will be covered by long-range cams with ‘C’ and ‘D’ cell externals for a three-four month period during the rainy season.
Old 2nd generation LBK trail cam in an ‘elephant proof’
housing firmly bolted to a tree with a ‘Python cable and 2 lag bolts.
Rear-end of a tiger along a game trail
Asian tapir at night
Tapir up-close and checking out the cam
‘Eye of a tapir’….not as dramatic as a tiger’s eye..but OK for government work..!
A mature sambar stag, Thailand’s largest cervid
Note: I still have more then ten trail cams working here at the moment including my new Canon DSLR 400D with three wireless flashes, and two of my new W55s. I will also be setting up a homebrew video very soon. I surely will be posting many more camera trap photos of this truly wonderful and magical wildlife sanctuary in the near future.
Amazing biodiversity in jeopardy made famous by the ‘Death Railway’ in World War II
On December 8, 1941, the same day of the Pearl Harbor attack in Hawaii (Dec. 7 in the U.S.), the Japanese Army invaded Thailand with thousands of troops and settled in. Sometime in 1942, a decision was made to build a railway from Bangkok to Burma and beyond through the thick malaria and tiger infested jungles in Kanchanaburi province using allied and Asian prisoners-of-war as construction labor.
Regal crab by the Mae Nam Noi river in Sai Yok National Park
Thousands died under the harsh and sometimes brutal conditions. Remnants of this rail line remain today in Sai Yok National Park. Numerous monuments to the men who lost their lives have been erected in Kanchanaburi, and the main cemetery in town is close to the rail line and the famous ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ (Khwae).
Apart from its popular waterfalls and river trips, this national park is not that well known. Situated in Kanchanaburi province, along Thailand’s western border with Myanmar, its interior is truly a magnificent wildlife paradise encompassing exactly 500 square kilometers. However, it may not remain so for long, as poaching and forest encroachment continues to be a problem for the Department of National Parks (DNP).
Kitti’s Hog-nosed bat in a limestone cave by the Mae Nam Noi
The headquarters of the protected area is at Sai Yok Yai (big Sai Yok) waterfall, about one hundred kilometers upstream from Kanchanaburi town on the Khwae Noi River. This site is visited by scores of local and foreign tourists every year that come to see the waterfall and the smaller one at Sai Yok Noi, both of which are only a short distance off Highway 323 going north. Activities on the river include swimming, rafting, boating and picnicking.
Cave-dwelling Nectar-eating bats in a limestone cave by the Mae Nam Noi
Deep inside the park, however, one of the world’s smallest mammals, Kitti’s hog-nosed bat Craseonycteris thonglongyai discovered by the late Thai zoologist Kitti Thonglongya, is found in limestone caves along the remote Mae Nam Noi and Khwae Noi rivers. Previously, it was thought to be endemic but now this creature has been found in other isolated pockets elsewhere in Kanchanaburi, and is also thought to survive in neighboring Myanmar.
Short-nosed fruit bats
This flying mammal weighs barely two grams. Aptly, it has been called the ‘bumblebee bat’ and has an average wingspan of just three inches. It uses sonar to forage for insects during short periods each night — about 30 minutes — in the evening and again for 20 minutes just before dawn. Numbers are few and is listed by IUCN as vulnerable. At one time, this remarkable little mammal was in fact one of the world’s twelve most endangered animals. Constant foraging by locals for bat dung (guano) and catching bats with mist-nets is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
Sunset over Sai Yok National Park
Also found in this same area is the regal crab or queen crab Thaiputsa sirikit discovered in 1983 and named in honor of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand. This crustacean is known locally as the ‘three-colored crab’. With their white body, purple stripe down the back, and red legs, the regal crab is truly a pretty sight.
Mae Nam Choan tributary in Sai Yok
They live like most crab, in holes, which they dig along the banks of the river. They come out at night to forage for food eating mainly composted leaves. Now few in number, this is yet another species that is seriously endangered and needs complete protection.
Olive-back sunbird female by the river
Fortunately, the locals in the area have stopped eating them since they were named after the Queen. They are now protecting the few crabs that are left. This is a case of true conservation and hopefully, the species will survive into the future.
Olive-back sunbird male close by
Elephant, gaur, tiger and leopard, plus many other species, still survive in the interior of the park, but all wild animals are dwindling. Sambar, serow, muntjac, tapir and wild pig are also found and constitute the main prey species for the big cats. Asian black bear, Malayan sun bear, clouded leopard, golden cat and marble cat plus many smaller species like civet, porcupine, gibbon and monkey live here but like all the rest, they too are threatened. Birds, reptiles, insects flourish as well as plant life.
Mae Nam Noi river in Sai Yok
Like most national parks in Thailand, Sai Yok is a target for poaching and logging which seem to go hand in hand. Most of the wildlife is hunted for trophies and meat, primarily during the dry season when there is good road access. It is sometimes common to see poachers in the park, cruising along the roads in vehicles or on motorcycles. Illegal logging has been carried out along the Khwae Noi, Mae Nam Noi and Mae Nam Lo rivers. This has seriously eroded their banks.
Mae Nam Lo river in Sai Yok
Other forms of encroachment include cattle and buffalo corrals that are set up deep in the forest where fodder is easily available. The chance of ‘foot and mouth’ disease being passed on to wild ungulates is real. Fruit orchards pop up in areas along the river inhibited by wild creatures and seem to thrive. Constant illegal activities are affecting the status of the park’s wildlife and watershed integrity.
Leopard camera trapped in the interior of Sai Yok
The forests in Sai Yok are mostly tropical broad-leaved evergreen with much bamboo and mixed deciduous woodlands in the foothills. The highest peak, Khao Khewa, at 1,327 meters above sea level, is part of the Tenasserim Range that runs through the park from north to south. The area was formerly logged so the park has many thin patches where big trees were felled. However, heavy brush continues to grow back strongly in these areas.
Elephants camera trapped by the river
During the height of the rainy season, between July and October, Sai Yok’s wildlife roam and feed fairly safely due to the rough weather and almost impenetrable terrain. The rivers and streams in the park become raging torrents that make crossing them next to impossible. About the only way in is by long-tailed motorboat, with a very skilled operator.
Mae Nam Lo river deep in the interior
Many a boats and rafts has been washed away in rapids on the Mae Nam Noi and Mae Nam Lo rivers. Occasionally, 4×4 off-road vehicles become stuck in the park after heavy rains. Some have even had to wait until the dry season to get out. Elephant just love to play football with these vehicles left behind. I know a man who left his Land Rover through the rainy season and when he returned, it had been flipped over and completely smashed.
Crab-eating macaque by the Lo River
Another very important aspect of Sai Yok is that gaur and elephant come across the border from Myanmar to feed on bamboo shoots in August and September, and then return to the safety of the other side prior to the dry season. Equally interesting, there are unofficial reports of a ‘hybrid cattle’, possibly a cross between gaur and banteng that have been seen by locals.
Young crab-eating macaque with a troop
The numbers of all animals are dwindling, however, due to increased activity in the park. Just a decade ago, green peafowl were found here but they have neither been seen nor heard from for many years. The ever-shrinking wilderness area of Sai Yok is under threat that should be addressed by the DNP if its flora and fauna are to survive intact.
Mae Nam Choan river
Sai Yok has always been special to me. I basically began my career as a wildlife photographer here after making a promise to the ‘spirits of the forest’ to begin documenting Thailand’s wildlife with a camera. Some of my first photographs are the regal crab and the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat shown in the story. I also camera trapped my first and second tiger in the interior. I recently caught a leopard by camera trap along a trail by the river seen here.
Khwae Noi River in Sai Yok
The future of Sai Yok as one of Thailand’s most beautiful and important national parks depends in great measure on the DNP and their ability to enforce the law. Reportedly, greater efforts are being made by the department to protect the park and its precious wildlife and ecosystems. Some poachers and encroachers have been arrested but such campaigns can be difficult to sustain. The long-term effects will become clear over time.
Candlebra bush flowers in the interior
It is hoped this magnificent wilderness and its wildlife will survive into the foreseeable future. In particular, the home of the world’s smallest bat needs serious attention and protection. It would be a sad day for Thailand if this prestigious mammal were to be lost to extinction.
Published in the Bangkok Post in the ‘Life’ section on March 26, 2012
Bird sanctuary and haven for many species of avian fauna
Laem Phak Bia Environmental Research and Development Project
Pied kingfishers landing in Phetchaburi province
Birds are among nature’s most fascinating creatures. They are the direct descendants of dinosaurs as shown by their detailed anatomy. Archaeopteryx, a 125 myo fossil from a slate quarry in Germany, is the best-known intermediate between toothed dinosaurs and modern birds, but a rich fossil of feathered dinosaurs has since been uncovered by Chinese researchers. The ancestors of modern birds were adaptable enough to survive the great extinction 65 million years ago that wiped out the rest of the dinosaur assemblage.
Indian skimmer in salt pans next to Laem Phak Bia
At last count, c. 1000 birds had been recorded in the Kingdom of Thailand. Although some, such as the Giant Ibis and Sarus Crane, have been lost due to hunting and habitat destruction, the continued richness and accessibility of Thailand’s birds and birdwatching sites makes the country a magnet for birders and photographers from around the world.
Indian pond-heron in Laem Phak Bia
One of the best-known birdwatching areas lies in Ban Laem district of Phetchaburi, on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand. It includes the Laem Phak Bia Environmental Research and Development Project, established in 1991, and fully operational by 1995.
Painted stork in Laem Phak Bia
H. M. King Bhumipol Adulyadej initiated the project to treat both wastewater and solid waste through environmentally and ecologically sustainable methods. From a pumping station in Phetchaburi city 18.5 km away, wastewater is fed to Laem Phak Bia through a pipeline. This has created a 1 sq. km freshwater oasis among the surrounding expanse of brackish saltpans. The nutrient input makes this a rich feeding area for water birds and insectivorous land birds, including many that are migrants from northern Asia, together with some other animals such as monitor lizard.
Grey heron in Laem Phak Bia
Laem Pha Bia takes its name from a 3 km ‘sand-spit’ that juts into the gulf. This landform is a meeting point for birds, mammals, reptiles and fish from both sheltered mudflats and mangrove habitat of the Inner Gulf and those inhabiting the exposed sand-beaches of the southern Thai peninsula. The project area includes extensive secondary, regenerating, low stature mangrove forest along its coastal margin.
Little egret and mud-skipper in Phetchaburi
The freshwater lagoons, salt and brackish water expanses, mudflats, sand beaches, marsh grasses, and mangroves, plus the garden and tree plantations around the offices at Laem Phak Bia together constitute an unparalleled diversity of habitats in a small area. In turn, this attracts the highest diversity of birds of any place on the gulf shoreline.
Black-capped night-heron in Laem Phak Bia
From 1999 onwards Philip D. Round, Thailand’s most experienced ornithologist, and others have studied the life-cycles and populations of birds in the project. Such dedication by both professional and amateur birders has made Laem Phak Bia a de facto “bird observatory”, like those in Australia, N Europe and N America. A book, ‘Birds of Laem Phak Bia’, published with support from the Chaipattana Foundation in August 2009, is available from bookshops and at the Royal Project for those interested in learning more about the biodiversity of the site.
Great egret breeding nearby at Ban Laem town
Among the 242 species of bird recorded from the project and surrounding areas one of the most outstanding was an Indian Skimmer that arrived to delight bird watchers and photographers in April 2004. Another scarce visitor was an Indian Pond Heron that showed up on the freshwater ponds in 2006. I was fortunate to photograph both these birds during their short stays.
Brown seagulls in a freshwater pond in Laem Phak Bia
In March 2006 a rare and virtually unknown vagrant bird, the Large-billed Reed Warbler, was also netted and banded inside the project area before being photographed and released. At the time the only previous record in the whole world for this species was from the Sutlej Valley, Northwest India back in 1867. Such an amazing discovery shows both the significance of the project, and the continued conservation importance of the Thai Gulf.
Sunset at Laem Phak Bia
Without doubt, the highly successful Laem Phak Bia Environmental Research and Development Project has not only helped the people of Phetchaburi province by reducing pollution, but also provided nature lovers, bird watchers and photographers a chance to get close to some of Thailand’s remarkable endangered birds and eco-systems. This, of course, is a plus for wildlife conservation, and an example how protection and the safety of wild creatures is enhanced by a Royal Project.
Water monitor or locally known as the ‘Water Dragon’
Notes on Laem Phak Bia by Phillip D. Round
I was immediately struck by the potential of Laem Phak Bia for studying a huge diversity of both resident and migratory birds when first introduced to the site in March 1999. I also fell in love with the tranquility and remoteness of the nearby coastline. Since that time I have spent as many weekends as I can manage there. In collaboration with the Wildlife Research Division of the Department of National Parks, and with the full support and encouragement of the Environmental Research and Development Project director and staff, I my students, and Bird Conservation Society of Thailand helpers, erect mist-nets in order to catch wild birds. These are then marked with a numbered metal band provided by the department; carefully examined, photographed and released.
Collared kingfisher with a bird band by P.D. Round
The long-legged and highly migratory shorebirds are additionally marked with coloured leg-flags that enables their country of marking to be recognized by an observer using binoculars or telescope. Birds marked at Laem Phak Bia have been found as far afield as Australia and NE China.
Black-winged stilt in Laem Phak Bia
But even the resident (non-migratory) birds are of enormous interest. Any bird that bears a numbered metal band is effectively carrying an individual identity card throughout its life — essential for detailed ecological study. Who would have guessed that our longest-lived bird was a diminutive (less than 8 g weight) nok krachip (Common Tailorbird) banded as long ago as 2001! Not only have we learnt much about the life-histories, movements and annual cycles of birds, but we have also taught students the safe bird-handling skills they need to run their own research projects elsewhere in Thailand.
Philip Round is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, Mahidol University, and is also the region al representative of The Wetland Trust (UK).
COMMENT: Over-development in Kaeng Krachan National Park
Since the cover story was about birds, a report on the other famous bird-watching site in Phetchaburi is called for. Kaeng Krachan National Park is one of Thailand’s most important protected areas for wildlife conservation. The dry-evergreen forest is habitat to more than 400-recorded species including the rare Ratchet-tailed treepie found only in northern Vietnam and Kaeng Krachan.
Ten-wheeled dump truck and backhoe at kilometer 18 in Kaeng Krachan
Last year, several expansion projects were introduced into the park including tree clearing, camp area expansion and construction work were undertaken at several locations including the headquarters area, plus Ban Krang and Phanern Thung ranger stations situated in the interior. Bird watchers and photographers from around the world come regularly to see and photograph the birds, animals and these forest ecosystems.
Her Majesty Queen Sirikit visited Phanern Thung and her palace is maintained past the station. Campgrounds and parking areas have now been expanded into every empty space to increase visitors. A roast chicken and ‘som tam’ restaurant is now open every day at the top.
Chicken shop at Phanern Thung ranger station
About 20 years ago when the road into the park was extended past Phanern Thung to a car park at kilometer 36, a new tourist trap was established known as the ‘Sea of Fog’. Then, some professors at Kasetsart University walked down to the Phetchaburi River along a very tough track and set-up camp for extended stay building bamboo furniture and shacks by the waterway known as ‘KU Camp’.
Now, an even more complex VIP bungalow with tables and seats plus two toilets has been erected here, and recently used by some big shots with a campfire, armrests and drink-holders to boot. The trail down to the river is now widened to accommodate rafting crews and one could almost drive down.
Backhoe digging a huge hole to build a water holding tank
And finally the worst: at kilometer 18, a 10-wheeled truck is parked and a big backhoe is digging an enormous hole, supposedly to build a water storage tank. One of the best bird sites in Kaeng Krachan constantly visited by nature lovers is now completely destroyed by heavy equipment working everyday seen in the accompanying photograph.
Also, a natural stream crosses the road past Ban Krang at three locations but are now covered over with pipes and dirt to accommodate cars and two-wheeled traffic. By the look of things, more construction projects will be on the drawing boards to expand visitation even more. It is doubtful if any feasibility studies have been carried out on the impact of all this construction and destruction of natural tranquility.
After visiting and working in Kaeng Krachan for more than a decade, and knowing how important and beautiful this forest truly is, I feel sadden by all this over-development. It is only the beginning but quickly destroying the park to the point of no return, much like Khao Yai National Park in the Northeast. It is hope someone will read this and go see for themselves what has transpired. Action should be taken by the ‘powers to be’ to ensure anymore degradation is stopped before it is too late!
Published in the Bangkok Post in the ‘Life’ section on March 28, 2011