Posts Tagged ‘protected area’

From a dozen great one-horned rhinos to over 2,400 individuals in just 80 years…!

Kaziranga, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated in the State of Assam in northeast India, and encompasses some 430 square kilometers of grasslands, wetlands and river habitat plus a buffer zone amounting to another 400 square kilometers. Over time, the Assamese have created the greatest protected area in the world.

Kaziranga National Park

A close-up of a rhino bull and a mynah birds looking for insects at sunset. There are

some 2,400 rhinos in Kaziranga making this place absolutely amazing in regards to

these creatures still thriving in the wild, and where one can actually see them. 

Kaziranga National Park

A big tusker with nice ivory. There are some 1,000 elephants in the park and they

have also flourished because of the pristine habitat,  food sources and great protection.

But they are also targeted by poachers but on a much lesser scale. It’s easy to see

them in all areas of Kaziranga as they go about their daily lives.

Kaziranga National Park

A pair of wild water buffalo cows at a waterhole. Along with the rhino and elephants,

these bovid have increased to 1,300 individuals. The Indian sub-species have the largest

horns of any creature in the world, and Kaziranga has the highest density of buffalo.

In most places, the African and Asian rhinos are in trouble and close to extinction, especially the Javan and Sumatran species. Rhinocerotidae have been on earth since the ‘Late Eocene or Early Oligocene’ (about 33 to 28.3 million years ago). Being odd-toed ungulates and herbivorous, they thrive in these grassland and wetlands that are supplied nutrients from the annual floods from the great Brahmaputra River.

This river flows from the Himalayas through the park in the northern section. This waterway is one of India’s main lifelines providing water to millions of people downstream along its entire length all the way to Bangladesh emptying into the Bay of Bengal. Annual floods bring nutrients to the land and the ecosystem is replenished.

Originally established as a reserve forest in 1908, Kaziranga was declared a sanctuary in 1916 to counter extensive poaching of the rhinoceros. In 1974, the Indian Government demarcated the present area as a national park. Then, in 2007, it was declared a tiger reserve under the Central Government’s ‘Project Tiger’ scheme.

Rhino gallery: Over four days, I photographed loads of these prehistoric looking

creatures in all three zones (West, Central and East)…! It was simply amazing…!

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Rhino in Kaziranga NP

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Eighty years ago, the rhino population was decimated to just a dozen or so beasts by poaching for their horn in demand by the Chinese and Vietnamese. The Assamese government decided to really put its foot down and instigated a policy to eradicate poachers using ‘extreme measures’ throughout the park, plus increasing the ranger force by several hundred percent.

The animal population immediately began to pick-up, and the last senses in 2014 estimated that some 2,400 rhino, 1,300 wild water buffalo and 1,000 elephant are thriving in this small park. Along with this, there are over 100 tigers that live here too and the park has one of the highest densities of the striped cat per square kilometer in the world. As a destination to see these majestic and iconic creatures, Kaziranga is the place to go.

Wild elephant gallery: I saw these herbivores every day and in all zones. There are over

1,000 of these giants in the park…!

Elephant bull in Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

The Assamese people are very proud of their heritage and the park is a ‘case study’ on how to actually save a species from extinction. All the large mammals propagate in safety and show the world; if you look after a place with a mandate to rid the protected area of poachers, animals will flourish. However, it turned into a small war and many people were actually killed including some rangers.

Even so in 2014, about 50 rhinos lost their horns and poachers killed three tigers. The battle continues and the government has done a brilliant job of saving nature with a tough mandate of ‘shoot to kill’ in order to protect this place.

It has worked so well that it is now possible to see rhino everyday, and just about everywhere, even outside the park. As I was leaving for the airport after four days on a recent safari in Feb. 2015, there were some cars parked by the side of the road and photographers had their cameras out taking images of a rhino a hundred meters from the tarmac.

Wild water buffalo gallery: There are more than 1,300 of these bovid and I saw them

everyday in all zones…! They have the largest horns in the animal kingdom….!

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park

There are three zones (West, Central and East) that tourists are allowed to enter and it is scheduled by the lodge where you are staying on what areas one can visit. The Big Three (rhino, buffalo and elephants) can be seen in all areas. If you are lucky, a tiger may appear at any time. There are many bird species thriving and it is a bird watcher’s paradise.

The Park is home to more than 70 percent of the one-horned rhinoceros left in the world and harbors more than 60 percent of India’s wild water buffalo population along with the only population of Eastern swamp deer (or barasinga). Other important wildlife found are: gaur, leopard, fishing cat, large and small Indian civet, sambar, barking deer, hog deer, hog badger, Hoolock gibbon, capped langur, Assamese macaque, rhesus macaque, sloth bear, Gangetic dolphin and otter, etc.

A fresh tiger pug mark on the road in Kaziranga. I did not see a tiger here but got

a wonderful shot of a running tiger in the grassland of Corbett National Park

in northern India….!

Kaziranga National Park

Tiger female in the grassland at Dhikala, Corbett National Park

From New Delhi, the flight to Guwhati in Assam takes about two hours and then it’s another four hours by taxi to the Infinity Lodge where I stayed situated close to the three Kaziranga park gates. There are many other hotels and lodges and one can find these on the Internet. There is also a bus service that passes the park. Traffic to the park is a bit hectic at certain times since it’s the main road in the northeast India to the next state of Nagaland, and on into Myanmar. It has been said that smugglers use this route for tiger bones and rhino horn to China.

Some of the rare birds thriving in Kaziranga: A female black stork  identified by a

yellow iris near a waterhole; a Kalij pheasant in the forest; two bar-headed geese

in the wetlands, and a grey heron and pelican swimming in a pond….!

Black stork in Kaziranga

Kalij pheasant in Kaziranga

Bar-winged goose in Kaziranga

Kaziranga National Park

One thing for sure: the Forest Department here in Assam is one tough cookie. They have increased rangers to 700 men and women, and have 162 guard posts with 3-4 rangers living in each of these quarters. They do mainly foot patrols and are always armed with a least a rifle (mainly British .303s but some men have newer generation .315 Indian rifles that is lighter in weight than the old cumbersome English service arm) or sometimes 12 gauge shotguns. Some of the elite forest guards have assault rifles. While on any safari in Kaziranga, a forest guard with a rifle is mandatory in case of an emergency.  The men do mostly foot patrols around their respective areas.

Kaziranga gallery: The park has seen some serious flooding and the most extreme levels

have been recorded shown here at a ranger station. Travel and viewing wildlife is normally

done in Maruti (Suzuki) type jeeps. Controlled burning of the grasslands carried out by the

Forest Department benefits the herbivores when new grass sprouts up….!

Kaziranga National Park

Maruti jeep and visitors to Kaziranga

Kaziranga National Park Control burning in Kaziranga NP

Needless to say, it is perfectly safe to travel in and around the park. An armed forest guard to ride ‘shotgun’ is mandatory and is picked up at the gate. For the most part, you’ll be able to see these beasts in a Maruti (Suzuki) safari type jeep called a ‘gypsy’. It is the best way to view wildlife and there are many operators at most of the lodges. The forest department also offers guided tours on an elephant-back to get up-close to the big beasts.

The best time to visit Kaziranga is from November to April. I used a Company named ‘Wilderness Uncut’ (wildernessuncut.com) for all my arrangements. Wildlife photographers Anu Marwah from New Delhi, and Jason Fernandes from Mumbai are co-owners and they organized everything to perfection. Their service is top-notch and I know who will arrange any future trips to India for me. Being wildlife photographers, they know what is needed for a successful trip.

That’s me with my naturalist Polash Borah, driver Mohammed Nekib Ali and a forest

ranger at a rest stop station early one morning during my recent safari.

Kaziranga group

I also had the pleasure of working with Polash Borah, my naturalist (17 years of experience in Kaziranga) and Mohammed Nekib Ali (10 years experience) my driver who also acts as a naturalist. We spent four days together and had a great time. They know exactly what are the best areas for viewing and photographing wildlife, and both work at the Infinity Lodge just outside the park.

May 1st is ‘World Rhino Day’ in India, and Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve is the best place in the world to see these rare creatures up-close. If you are planning on visiting a protected area first hand and want to view Mother Nature’s giants, make arrangements to Assam; you won’t be disappointed…!

Travel Info:

From Thailand, one of the best airlines to travel to India is ‘Air India’ that has a daily flight leaving Bangkok around 8am and arriving in New Delhi at noon. Arriving in the daytime in Delhi is much better and safer than arriving after midnight like some of the other airlines do. A connecting flight on Indigo Airways to Guwhati in Assam is very good and takes about two hours. They are a budget airline and have several flights a day. I recommend these two carriers as being very reliable and reasonable in price. Give yourself at least three hours through the New Delhi domestic airport, as it is extremely busy and crowded. Finally, when flying a domestic airline, a maximum of 15 kilos for check-in baggage is the standard. Anything over that weight will be charged as excess.

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Huai Kha Khaeng: A camera trap saga

Friday, April 6, 2012 posted by Bruce 1:59 PM

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

Tusker close-up


Tusker about-face


Mature gaur bull


Mature banteng bull


Younger banteng bulls

Mature banteng cow


Banteng cow close-up


Macaque monkey

Camera trapper

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.

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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.

 

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Laem Phak Bia Royal Project in Phetchaburi

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 posted by Bruce 10:09 PM

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’

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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).

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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!

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