“Wildlife sanctuaries like these are vital to enable protection of all their variety of animals and other creatures… the endangered species they hold must be safeguarded from hunting, deforestation, or ecologically harmful development”
The park rangers at Huai Kha Khaeng take the burden of protection left to them by Seub seriously. The site is home to a large number of important and endangered species such as the Asian Elephant, leopards, and the only herd of wild water buffalo in Thailand. One of the most important species inside the park, however, is the Indochinese tiger. The Huai Kha Khaeng – Thung Yai World Heritage Site is the most important conservation area for this species of tiger in South East Asia, holding an estimated 84-121 Indochinese tigers.
Staff at the park have been conducting research on tiger biology for the past 20 years, using radio collars to track their movement and habitat use, and have also undertaken population monitoring via camera traps, with roughly 500 cameras placed around the park and moved every 30 days. From January – April 2017, 100 days of camera trap monitoring in 220 different locations inside the sanctuary documented 50 tigers, a drastic increase from the 26 photographed in 2007, and up even from the 40 found just the year prior. The ~4,000km2 of wildlife sanctuary is patrolled by 500 rangers with a maximum daily coverage range of 7km2. These rangers have been working to improve the quality of their patrols, using GPS to track the area covered, and to document important locations of animal activity within the park. Already, the Breeding Centre inside the sanctuary, originally intended to breed herbivores like deer for release back into the sanctuary, has had its focus redirected towards tiger rescue. It is now home to 14 tigers in total, 12 of which were confiscated from poachers and traffickers, victims of the illegal wildlife trade. To support the patrols, the park has also implemented CCTV monitoring in the buffer zone (a 5km-wide boundary surrounding the sanctuary, separating the protected area of the park from the unprotected public land just outside), managing to catch 5 incidences of poaching, 9 poachers, and confiscating 7 guns within 5 months.
Dr. Saksit Simcharoen, a leading tiger researcher at the park, commented: “There’s no such thing as not being able to do our job. We must overcome any obstacle we are faced with”; such is the passion of the people working to conserve this important species in Thailand.
“Huai Kha Khaeng should not be closed off to all people”
Seub wanted people to experience the forest in order to realise its value and therefore work to protect it. This is one of the main problems raised by Mr. Chatawan Pisdamkham, a co-worker of Seub’s and former Superintendent of the wildlife sanctuary. He remarked the surrounding communities “don’t feel a sense of belonging in the park”, they are distanced from it and its management.
One of the ways in which they aim to mitigate this issue is through a greater involvement of local communities in the sanctuary with the development of ecotourism in the area. The UNDP Thailand has been working on strengthening the capacity and incentives for wildlife conservation in the area and has partnered with the UN’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) to explore the topic of developing wildlife tourism in and around the buffer zone. Villagers will be educated on the park and its importance and biodiversity in order to pass the message along to visitors, acting as park guides. A particular hope is to engage local youth in being advocates for the sanctuary.
“I am here to speak on behalf of the animals, who cannot speak for themselves”
Seub believed that community outreach, particularly programmes aimed at children, would be effective in combatting illegal poaching and deforestation – these were the words he would open with. Rangers at the nearby Sai Bor Waterfall have continued to work on education outreach – hosting youth conservation camps to teach school children from the Uthai Thani Province about wildlife, plants, and the forest, already having reached 100 of the 300 schools in the area.