The WCS Lao PDR Program is focusing its efforts on protecting one of the world’s most important areas for biodiversity, the Greater Northern Annamites (GNA). WCS is committed to working in the GNA of Lao PDR because it is home to unique wild habitats and endemic species, supports the livelihoods of several million people, and is increasingly threatened by human-induced processes.
The Greater Annamites has the highest concentration of endemic species for a continental area in the world and is ranked as one of the world’s 200 most important bioregions. The area also has some of Southeast Asia’s most charismatic species including tiger and Asian elephant. Protecting a contiguous area from north to south of the Greater Annamites, which includes a natural elevation gradient, is extremely important for the survival of the area’s flora and fauna as species seek out climate refuge. WCS implements conservation activities in protected areas that span roughly 1.4 million hectares and are home to the iconic Asian wildlife and wild landscapes of the GNA.
- The GNA as a whole contains 134 mammal species and over 500 species of birds.
- WCS Global Priority Species that occur in the GNA include the Indochinese tiger and the Asian elephant.
- There are several rare, endemic, and lesser-known species that only in recent years have become known to science, such as the critically endangered Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) and large-antlered muntjac (Muntiacus vuquanghensis), Annamite muntjac (Muntiacus truongsonensis) and the Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsii).
- Three of the world’s most endangered primates inhabit the GNA, which are the white-cheeked crested gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys), red-shanked douc langur (Pygathrix nemaeus), and Phares langur (Trachypithecus phayrei).
- Several hundred bird species occur in the GNA including the spectacular crested Argus (Rheinardia ocellata), and the newly described limestone warbler (Phylloscopus calciatilis) and bald-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus Hualon).
The principle threat to the flora and fauna of the GNA in Lao PDR is the unregulated over-harvesting of animals and plants, largely for trade and to a lesser degree for subsistence.The reasons for the broader illegal trade in wildlife products are myriad and include strong cultural beliefs held in Laos and the region about wildlife’s medicinal benefits and culinary superiority; increasing personal income; lack of awareness of the health risks of eating wildlife and of the importance of protecting biodiversity; greater road access to rural areas; cross-boundary flow of commerce and people; and a low prioritizing of illegal wildlife interdiction for public sector funding, staff and action. Habitat loss, the second major threat to the GNA, is driven by pioneering shifting cultivation, logging for timber and the unprecedented rate of conversion of natural forests for cash crops, plantations and large-scale commercial projects such as hydropower and mining. Climate change and increasing risk of emerging diseases are emerging issues that will place additional stress on these already fragile and unique wildlife communities. Compounding the complexity of threats is the lack proper population studies of many of the GNA’s endangered species, such as Saola and white-cheeked gibbon, to provide protected area managers with the information necessary tocraft appropriate conservation strategies.
Addressing such impacts requires a holistic approach that engages government institutions, the private sector, and civil society to develop win-win offset programs that create sustainable financing for conservation and natural resource management which minimizes impacts on biodiversity while supporting innovative, on-the-ground activities such as community-based sustainable resource use systems for long-term food security, participatory boundary demarcation to enable ownership of natural resources in managed-use areas, incentive-based law enforcement that rewards local people and park staff for demonstrated anti-wildlife trade action, and direct payments for ecosystem services such as wildlife-based tourism.
In partnership with local communities and the Government of Lao PDR, WCS has been implementing conservation activities over the past decade in four main sites spanning roughly 1.4 million ha of the GNA, which include Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area, Nakai Nam Theun National Protected Area, the Bolikhamxay Landscape, and the Savannakhet Landscape. Effective and sustained management of these areas into the future will fulfill WCS’ vision of protecting a corridor of the GNA’s rich ecosystems from north to south.