Forest Ranger, guardian of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park
Interview conducted and translated by NEPL WCS staff Mr. Jay White and Mr. Khamphui Invixay
Edited by: Manoly Sisavanh, WCS Lao PDR
Disclaimer: This project is funded by IUCN Save Our Species. The content of this article is the sole responsibility of WCS Lao PDR and do not necessary reflect the views of IUCN.
WCS Lao PDR is implementing the project titled ‘Securing Corridors to Connect Populations of Nomascus leucogenys (northern white-cheeked crested gibbons) across the Landscape of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park (NEPL NP)’ from June 2020 to May 2022. This project aims to increase the long-term viability of populations of Nomascus leucogenys – an IUCN Critically Endangered species – in the NEPL NP in Northern Laos through increasing the protection and integrity of key habitat corridors within NEPL NP.
Today, we would like to introduce you to one of NEPL dedicated rangers, who has contributed tirelessly to the protection of Nomascus leucogenys and other fauna and flora species in NEPL NP.
Figure 1: Xionglor Suamai, Ranger of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park
Q: Can you tell us about yourself?
A: My name is Xionglor Suamai. I’m 34 years old. I married and have three kids: two boys and one girl. I was born in Ban Pha Daeng Village in Viengkham District of Luang Prabang Province, on the western border of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park.
Q: How long have you been a ranger for Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park?
A: 5 years
Q: Explain what a patrol of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park is like. Where do you patrol? What is your goal and what are your objectives? Who do you patrol with? How do you travel? How long do your patrols go for?
A: I typically patrol the forests inside the Totally Protected Zone of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park. Our goal is to protect the forests and wildlife of the park from threats, so our objectives are preventing illegal poaching and forest destruction or disturbance inside the Totally Protected Zone by confronting the persons responsible. I usually patrol with one other NEPL ranger and two soldiers from the provincial military who accompany us for safety and legal authority. We normally spend 7 days and six nights at a time on patrol in the forest and are delivered to and picked up from our patrols by a car from the park office. Because the forest is so thick and the topography is so steep, we do most travel by following streams and ridgelines; sleeping at streams where we can get clean water for cooking, drinking, and washing, except in the rainy season when the streams can be very dangerous and we sleep higher up the hills or on the ridge tops. Travel can be very slow and difficult when the forest is thick with bamboo or vines, or when traveling through disturbed forest or grasslands where the vegetation is very thick; it is much easier to travel through mature forest with large trees where the low vegetation is not as thick.
Q: When you are on patrol in the forest, explain in general, a typical day from start to finish.
A: The team typically wakes up between 4 and 6 AM, depending on the requirements for the following day. The first thing we do is prepare food for the rest of the day. We avoid making fires when not necessary so as to not notify poachers in the area of our presence through smoke from our cooking fires, so we prepare lunch and sometimes dinner early in the morning in advance. Normally, the food which we carry to eat includes: sticky rice (soaked overnight and steamed first thing in the morning), grilled meat (usually pork and sometimes beef), instant noodles, instant coffee, salted fish, and eggs; we also carry dried chilies, salt, MSG, garlic, and shallots for flavor. Over the first couple days we may eat vegetables from the market as well such as eggplant or pak choy kale but these go bad very fast. While cooking, the team members pack up their belongings and clean camp. We normally eat breakfast just before we start walking to continue our patrol plan; between 6 and 7 AM.
We usually look for a place to camp by 4 or 5 PM but sometimes do not get the opportunity to set up a new camp till as late as 9 PM. Good camp spots will be along streams with clean water where we can wash and cook with ease. Many streams are in very deep and narrow gullies and setting up camp can be difficult; ideal camps are in wider valleys with some flat land near the stream and large mature trees. The exception is in the rainy season when these streams have the danger of flooding and we must camp higher up the hill. On arriving at camp, the first thing we do is to soak a new batch of sticky rice and gather firewood. We then re-steam our leftover rice and cook dinner while taking turns to wash in the stream. After eating, I (the team leader) or the deputy ranger compiles the SMART data and GPS waypoints from the day, filling in the details in the SMART data collection forms. We then sleep for the night. Usually we sleep in hammocks with mosquito nets and rain sheets but may sleep on the ground on very cold nights in January or February or when we are not among large enough trees.