ASEAN endorses oldest Thai forest

Danial Norjidi

The ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) announced that a protected area in Thailand touted as the world’s oldest tropical evergreen forest, Khao Sok National Park, has been declared an ASEAN Heritage Park.

The ASEAN environment ministers the nomination of Khao Sok National Park as the 50th ASEAN Heritage Park as endorsed and recommended virtually by the 31st Meeting of the ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment (ASOEN) and the 22nd Meeting of the Governing Board of the ACB, with Vietnam as host, on November 24-25, 2020, an ACB press release stated.

“We are pleased to share the news that Khao Sok National Park has joined the list of designated ASEAN Heritage Parks,” said ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita Lim.

“These remarkable parks are areas of high conservation value that best represent the region’s rich natural resources and cultural identity.”

The ACB, as the secretariat of the ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHP) Programme, facilitates the rigorous evaluation process of the nominated protected areas to be declared as an AHP.

It was shared that an evaluation team led by Robert Mather, technical assistance team leader of the Biodiversity Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in ASEAN (BCAMP) Project, together with two Thai evaluators Dr Dachanee Emphandhu and Dr Petch Manopawitr, visited Khao Sok in October 2020. BCAMP is an ongoing project being implemented by the ACB with support from the European Union.

Khao Sok National Park. PHOTO: ASEAN CENTRE FOR BIODIVERSITY

Khao Sok National Park is a 740-square kilometre terrestrial national park located in the Suratthani Province of Thailand, consisting of diverse ecosystems including evergreen forest, swamp forest, and limestone forest.

Wildlife species thriving in the park include the vulnerable species Mainland Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) and the endangered Malay Tapir (Tapirus indicus), as well as the largest flower Rafflesia Kerrii Meijer and the endemic flowering plant species Khaosokia caricoides. Khao Sok is adjacent to the Ratchaprapha Dam that generates power supply to its surrounding communities.

Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP), the agency responsible for protected area conservation and management in the country, welcomed the announcement, saying it gives the department “a feeling of accomplishment”, the press release noted.

DNP Director-General Thanya Netithammakun said, “On behalf of the Thai people, DNP is delighted and proud of Khao Sok National Park becoming the 50th ASEAN Heritage Park.”

Meanwhile, Thailand’s ASEAN Heritage Park representative and Director of National Park Research and Innovation Centre, National Parks Office of DNP Chonlathorn Chamnankid said Khao Sok National Park, in the middle of Klong Saeng Khao Sok Forest Complex, has been a tourism destination for its ancient rainforest, limestone landscapes, and wildlife, “providing income and enhancing quality of life for the locals”.

Khao Sok National Park is the seventh AHP in Thailand. Other ASEAN Heritage Parks are Khao Yai National Park, Tarutao National Park, Ao Phang-Nga – Mu Ko Surin – Mu Ko Similan National Park, Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park, Hat Chao Mai National Park – Mu Ko Libong Non hunting Area.

“The designation of Khao Sok comes at an opportune time as the ASEAN region gears towards the recovery of the tourism sector, which is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. The ASEAN Heritage Parks, apart from showcasing the rich biodiversity in the region, can also be prime nature tourism destinations,” the ACB director said.

On February 4, following the 24th Meeting of ASEAN Tourism Ministers through a video conference hosted by the Kingdom of Cambodia, the ASEAN ministers issued a joint statement expressing commitment to the recovery of the tourism sector, highlighting three priority areas – the Road to Recovery; Towards ASEAN as a Single Tourism Destination; and Realising Sustainable, Inclusive, and Resilient Tourism Development.