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Creating a Direct Link between Tourism and Wildlife Conservation. Example of Nam Et-Pou Louey National Protected Area

Travellers from all over the world have been to Nam Et-Phou Louey (NEPL) National Protected Area (NPA) in the Lao PDR (Laos) hoping to see rare wild animals. Beyond this excitement, ecotourism triggers environmentally friendly attitudes and practices in this area. Communities in or near the NPA feel encouraged to protect endangered wildlife as ecotourism means extra income. The local government benefits too, as additional funds are generated for NPA management and the district tourism office.

The NEPL NPA is located across the three northern provinces of Huaphan, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khuang. It is the second largest of the 24 NPAs in the country covering a total of 420,000 hectares. NEPL is remarkable for its rich wildlife biodiversity, many endangered species, including tigers, northern white cheeked gibbons, dholes and others. Altogether there are 19 carnivore species including six species of wild cats, roughly 50 species of mammals and 299 species of birds.

Traveling upstream the Nam Nern River by boat

In order to maintain the health of the protected area, the NEPL NPA management unit in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have developed the ecotourism activities since 2009. The development of ecotourism products in NEPL NPA would not be possible without support of WCS donors including the World Bank, The European Union, KfW Development Bank, and AFD (Agence Française de Développement).

Their aim is to create a direct link between conservation and tourism.

Two ecotourism products currently exist in NEPL NPA: the Nam Nern Night Safari, and wildlife conservation trekking tours including ‘The Nests' and ‘The Cloud Forest Climb'. While on the Night Safari, visitors travel upstream the Nam Nern River by boat into the Totally Protected Zone of the NPA. After enjoying a bonfire dining on a sandy beach, they float down the river in the dark and spotlight wildlife along the river banks. Visitors stay overnight in traditional Lao bungalows. Many tourists find this an intriguing experience and feel lucky to observe wildlife such as Sambar deer, various species of civets and many bird species. The Nam Nern Night Safari has won the prestigious ‘World Responsible Tourism Award' at the World Travel Mart in London, England in 2013 and 2014.

New wildlife conservation trekking tours opened in 2016. These tours guide visitors through some of the NPA's most important wildlife habitats. The itineraries of 2 to 5 days offer an opportunity to track wild species such as leopards, bears and dhole using camera traps which are set up along the trail and maintained by tourists. The data from these camera traps supplements the protected area's conservation management programme.

“The income from ecotourism activities supports additional livelihoods for local people and generates community support for maintaining forest biodiversity and the conservation of endangered wildlife,” said Mr Phia Moua Valeetiayee, called Touy, the WCS-employed guide at NEPL NPA.

“Ecotourism can present a great livelihood activity to for local communities. But the success and the financial benefits to the local people depend on regular wildlife sightings and therefore, on the overall health of the NEPL NPA” Touy added.

The ecotourism project in Nam Et-Phou Louey provides additional working opportunities for local people in four villages. In addition, an Ecotourism Benefits Fund has been introduced to ensure that other communities support conservation efforts and share the benefits that come along with ecotourism in the area. This fund engages 26 ecotourism villages that receive financial benefits for their conservation efforts based on wildlife sightings by visitors on tours.

“The NEPL NPA management unit works with communities to develop additional livelihood opportunities. This includes harvesting non-timber forest products and other crops that are compatible with the protected area”, mentioned Touy. Protected areas such Nam Et-Phou Louey are important for conserving species and natural habitats while also contributing to the livelihoods and wellbeing of the local people.

By working with the locals for more than two years and seeing them benefiting from the ecotourism activities, Touy as a WCS tour guide is proud to present the uniqueness of Nam Et Phou-Louey to tourists.

“The visitors can learn many things from the local people. For example they will know which plants growing along the trails can be used for food or medicine. Visitors can learn about the diversity of wildlife in NEPL NPA as they can see different foot prints or wildlife captured in the camera trap images. If lucky, they might encounter wildlife such as deer, muntjac, civets, and others”, Touy said.

“Visitors either do the Night Safari boating tour or the wildlife conservation trekking tours. The nature activities on all tours include bird watching, wildlife tracking, nighttime wildlife spotting, and discovering medicinal plants,” Touy added.

NEPL NPA has successfully integrated ecotourism in its overall management system. A set of standards is based on sound environmental practices. This innovative approach does not only provide tourists opportunities to spot rare wildlife in Laos, but each visit and each dollar that a tourist pays for a tour will contribute to protection of wildlife and forests at the same time.

(Latest Update August 17, 2017)

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