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Forest guards improve village livelihood by protecting gibbons

Their home are subtropical and mountainous forests. Swinging gracefully from tree to tree in the canopy, gibbons are aerial acrobats in Southeast Asian rain forests. But their survival is seriously in danger. IUCN has classified all gibbon species as endangered or critically endangered. Their natural habitats are getting smaller and smaller and illegal hunting is decreasing their populations.

Female gibbon (Source: Fotolia)

But then there is this group of young villagers from a community near the Nam Kan National Protected Area (NPA) in Bokeo province. Supervised and trained by the Provincial Department of Natural Resource they became forest patrol guards and committed their lives to conserving and protecting gibbons through preserving their habitat. The team is the first of its kind in Laos. Their work is supported by the Gibbon Experience, an ecotourism venture aiming at ensuring a sustainable future for the Bokeo forest.
This initiative illustrates that people’s engagement is a key factor in the protection of wildlife in Laos. The Gibbon Experience is therefore at the forefront of the last of five articles about wildlife conservation in Laos in Vientiane Times.
The Nam Kan NPA became Laos 21st national protected area in 2008. It is home to a number of birds and large mammals including the Lao Black Crested Gibbons. It is one of the world’s most endangered primates and on the brink of extinction.  The global population of Black Crested Gibbons is estimated at 1,300-2,000 individuals.
The Lao Black Crested Gibbon can only be found in the Nam Kan NPA in Bokeo province and in the Nam Ha NPA in LuangNamtha province. The gibbon populations there have dramatically declined due to habitat loss, fragmentation of habits and also as a result of hunting. Their habitats disappear because of timber logging, illegal deforestation and excessive slash-and-burn practices. Only around 30 individuals of the Lao Black Crested Gibbon live in Nam Kan NPA.
Decree No. 0524/2001 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on the Management of National Protected Areas, Aquatic Animals and Wildlife provides strong regulations on the safeguard of wildlife in NPAs. But insufficient law enforcement is the reason why endangered animal and plant populations are still not safe in NPAs.
Protection measures in Nam Kan NPA started in 1997 with just five staff. Today, more than 20 local villagers are working as forest guards on a full-time basis. “In 2008, a survey on gibbons in Nam Kan NPA found about 100 Black Crested Gibbons. But currently there are less than 30 gibbons in only ten groups in the NPA. One group may have only two gibbons - one male and one female. If one of them is shot dead, they cannot mate and produce any offspring”, stated Kham Youanechuexian, a ranger in Nam Kan NPA who has trained and worked along the forest guards since 2008. “From 2008 to 2016, the population of wildlife has declined significantly. One of the main reasons is hunting for trade. Some traders offer villagers high prices for wildlife which has encouraged villagers to do more hunting. Our rangers sometimes face difficulties dealing with local authorities such as police, soldiers and officials who have weapons and go hunting. We face traders who got logging licenses from not so law-abiding officials,” Kham added. 
The patrol team is well-trained to provide accurate information to local community residents and their children through media such as videos or posters. They also engage in activities about wildlife conservation and inform about sanctions regarding illegal hunting. The work of the patrol team is challenging but necessary to help safeguard wildlife and the forest.
The rangers are paid by the Gibbon Experience. In 2004, Jean-François Reumaux founded the ecotourism venture in order to protect the gibbon population in Nam Kan.
The Gibbon Experience has helped put pressure on illegal hunting through patrolling activities. Gibbons are found near the Chomsy village. The Muser people there traditionally do not hunt gibbons. The locals’ support to wildlife conservation is the key to the gibbons’ survival.
Today, more than 140 people from surrounding villages are employed by the Gibbon Experience as tourist guides, treehouse builders, cooks and forest rangers. The project offers a lucrative alternative to poaching, logging and slash-and burn farming. It even turned former poachers and hunters into forest guards who are now protectors of the precious forests.
Due to ecotourism, hunting and poaching have dramatically declined. Local communities acknowledge the business model as a crucial aspect in successful wildlife conservation. “We try to raise awareness about forest and wildlife protection in the community, because it is very important to have the community involved in protection efforts. With their involvement, we can reduce the problems,” concluded Kham Youanechuexian.
Seeing gibbons fly from tree to tree with ease and speed is an amazing experience. Kham and the other rangers hope that the next generations of Lao will still have a chance to see gibbons in their natural habitat and that the forests will still be able to provide livelihoods for the younger generation in Bokeo. 
This article has been contributed by ProCEEd (Promotion of Climate-related Environmental Education), a project supported by the Federal Republic of Germany and implemented by the Deutsche GesellschaftfürInternationaleZusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.


(Latest Update
May 4,2017 )


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