Nam Et–Phou Louey (pronounced “naam et poo loo-ee”) National Protected Area (NPA) is located in the north-east of Lao PDR. With an area of 410,720 ha, it is the largest of Laos’ NPAs, covering seven districts and three provinces (Houaphan, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang provinces).
Mostly hilly or mountainous, it is the source of many rivers. It is named after its two main features, the Nern and Et Rivers and Phou Louey Mountain (“Forever Mountain”). The area has primary forest remaining in many areas, a high level of biodiversity, and a number of endangered species including tiger, gaur, Sambar deer, and white-cheeked gibbon.
- NEPL is the largest protected area in Lao PDR
- Approximately half of the protected area is co-managed with local communities to sustainably harvest wild plants and meat and practice traditional agriculture
- NEPL has one of the last tiger populations in Indochina
- There are five other cat species in addition to tigers including leopards, clouded leopard, Asian golden cat, marbled cat and leopard cat.
- NEPL has the largest population of white-cheeked crested gibbon, which is found only in Vietnam and Lao PDR.
- NEPL has the highest density of bears, according to recent surveys.
- Dhole is an endangered species in NEPL that requires five times the area of a tiger.
- Gaur is an endangeredspecies in NEPL that is the tiger’s preferred prey.
- There are 299 species of bird in NEPL.
NEPL is located in some of the poorest districts in the country and is home to 98 communities and 30,000 people who rely on its natural bounty for sustenance. Over-harvesting of wildlife and plants, agricultural encroachment, and potential mining and hydropower inside the core zone of the NPA threaten the long-term sustainability of the area to support its people. Lack of natural resource management systems in controlled use zones and low understanding among local people about conservation’s long-term benefits are undermining its sustainability. The challenge is, therefore, to develop management systems and build awareness among local people about conservation in order to improve the sustainable harvest of wild plants and animals for local use and provide local people with greater food security.
WCS conducts community-based research on the use of wildlife to help communities design methods for managing populations sustainably.
WCS is training and supporting national protected area managers at NEPL to create a model for protected area management in the country. The team visits communities regularly to raise awareness about conservation and its long-term benefits for food security.
WCS has partnered with district agriculture and livestock authorities to assist communities to improve livestock raising methods and reduce the conflict between humans and predators. Ecotourism activities at NEPL have been developed to provide an additional livelihood opportunity for local people surrounding the Protected Area. Village fund generation is directly linked to ecosystem health.
Currently the only way to visit Nam Et-Phou Louey is by doing the protected area’s wildlife ecotours: Nam Nern Night Safari or Trekking Tours. All tours have been designed to create a direct link between conservation and tourism so that the money that visitors pay has a positive impact on encouraging local people to protect endangered wildlife.
The Nam Nern Night Safari in NEPL was the winner of the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2013.