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Khammuan's limestone geography a UNESCO World Heritage Site soon?

Khammuan is known for its distinctive limestone landscapes. Those extraordinary ecosystems are a natural treasure and home to rare and endangered plant and animal species. Hin Nam No National Protected Area (NPA) in particular hosts features that warrant its proposition for world heritage status within the framework of the World Heritage Convention. The nomination process is of high interest to Laos as Hin Nam Nor would be the first UNESCO natural world heritage site of Laos.


Limestone mountains near Thongxam village.

The characteristic silhouette of the limestone mountains can be seen all over Khammuan. It is here that Karst as an ecosystem can be discovered in its extremes. PhouHinPoun NPA (180,000 ha) is a maze of mountains. Some peaks are higher than 700 metres. In the north, the area is bordered by the Pakkading Mountains and the Nakai Plateau.

To the east, the Mekong makes for a natural border. The second largest limestone massif in Khammuan is the Hin Nam Nor NPA, which lies along the border with Vietnam. The NPA was founded in 1993 and is known for its spectacular mountains and the Xebangfai river cave, one of the biggest in the world. Both ecosystems contain different vegetation types - from evergreen forests, dry forests and savanna like grasslands to mountain areas made of bare rock. Both NPAs are crucial for the well-being of local people and thousands of plants and animal species. The caves are a special part of the limestone ecosystem. As limestone is a soluble type of rock, hundreds of thousands of canals and caves have made their way through the stone in the past.

This giant tunnel system is a very special habitat and home to underground species such as bats, spiders, blind fish and other animals adapted to live in the dark.

The Khammuan caves feature superlatives like the large giant huntsman spider ( Heteropoda maxima ) or the huge whip scorpion ( Typopeltismagnificus ). Nowhere else in the world do spiders have a bigger leg span.

In Ju ly 2016, UNESCO ha s tentatively listed the Hin Nam No NPA as a natural world heritage site for its outstanding geomorphology and biodiversity. This means that the Lao government can now apply for Hin Nam Nor to receive world heritage status. The area has to be of “outstanding universal value” as to become a natural world heritage site. A lot of specific criteria have to be met. Just to name a few, the protection of the value under which the area will be listed has to be safeguarded and made plausible by demonstrating that there is an effective management for the NPA in place, that borders are clearly delineated, that the state of conservation is monitored, and that there is a buffer zone with a ty pe of land use that is conducive to conservation.

A st rategic multi-level collaborative governance for the Hin Nam No NPA has already been implemented by the Provincial Office for Natural Resources and Environment (PONRE) with support by GIZ. This so-called co-management system can now support the endeavor to acquire UNESCO world heritage status. In addition to effective management baseline research to prove the global significance of the area's geomorphology and biodiversity is a key prerequisite for a world heritage site. First scientific expeditions conducted in the Hin Nam Nor NPA in spring 2017 obtained promising results. A cave survey explored the numerous and vast caves in the area where several new species could be found in the underground ecosystems. A new species of Huntsman spider (Heteropodasteineri), a cave frog and a new species of gecko ( Cyrtodactylushinnamnoensis )seem to appear in Hin Nam No only. During a recent bat survey, some species could be found that are of special value as IUCN has already classified them as vulnerable. Many of the scientists are convinced that the extraordinary ecosystems inhabit even more previously undiscovered and vulnerable species because the existing knowledge about the values of Hin Nam Nor NP A is still limited.

GIZ will continue supporting co-management stakeholders and park authorities in managing the Hin Nam Nor NPA in line with best conservation practices and UNESCO standards. Additional support will focus on supporting institutional development and capacity building of key stakeholders within the framework of the UNESCO world heritage application dossier. First and foremost, this includes technical and scientific capacities that are required to bridge current knowledge gaps with regard to UNESCO world heritage nomination requirements through baseline research and scientific assessments.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update July 20, 2017)

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