Guardians of the Forest

Posted on 24 March 2015
Dry forest in southern Laos
© Ian Lacey / WWF-Laos
March 21st is International Day of Forests, a global celebration of forests and all types of trees. With forests covering one-third of the world’s landmass, their conservation is vital so they can continue to provide a home to unique flora and fauna, act as carbon sinks, and deliver important ecosystem services to the people who rely on them.
The Government of Laos has set out an ambitious target of reaching 70% forest cover by 2020, highlighting the significance forests play in the social and economic development of the country.
Forest conservation is a part of several of WWF’s projects in Laos. By building partnerships, fostering collaboration, and empowering communities to take care of their natural resources, we are helping to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.
To celebrate the International Day of Forests, we’ve been speaking to those people working on the ground in our projects about what forest conservation means to them, and the role they have to play in their preservation.

Sustainable Rattan

WWF’s sustainable rattan project operates in Bolikhamsay, Xekong and Saravan provinces. The objective of the project is to secure credible forest certification, establish a more sustainable rattan production supply chain, and develop sustainable financing for small and medium sized enterprises to invest in it. Community participation is a cornerstone of this project.
Mr. Phouthone, Head of Sopphoun Village, Bolikhamxay Province
“To conserve the forest is to conserve great biodiversity. It means we see a remarkable richness in nature and trees and species that have to be protected. It has also brought us together as a community, more than we could have imagined. First of all, we are able to earn an income by harvesting rattan responsibly, then weaving and selling it as a variety of products. We also sell rattan plants, shoots and seeds.
One aspect of our job is to go into the forest twice per month, watching for illegal activity, but we hope never to find it. We have the power to fine, and this is a strong tool for us – we are the guardians of the forest so it’s good to have this to use when necessary. For me, care for the forest means caring for ourselves, long term.”

Carbon & Biodiversity (CarBi) Programme

Aimed at halting deforestation, through forest protection and sustainable use of forest resources, and preserving the unique species diversity, the CarBi programme covers an area of more than 200,000 ha of forest along a vital mountain range that links Laos and Vietnam in Southeast Asia. In eastern Xe Sap NPA, the IUCN Save Our Species (SOS) project supports WWF ranger patrols aimed at protecting the critically endangered saola through the removal of snares, destruction of illegal hunting camps and interception of those carrying out illegal activities. Every month the team destroys on average 500 snares and 20 hunting camps in this, the domain on one of the world’s rarest animals.
Mr. Somphasong Phakhaikham, Head of the IUCN SOS supported Patrol Team, Xe Sap NPA

“Xe Sap is such an incredible area for its biodiversity and the volume of species living within it. And while it hosts an abundance of animals and plants, it’s also in a part of Laos that has forests that support local livelihoods. Because of this, it can come under much human pressure.
I go into the forest with my team specifically to destroy illegal camps and take out snares planted there. Many of these are along the border with Vietnam. Of course the saola is a huge focus of our attention, but other species can get caught in snares too, so conservation of saola habitat has knock-on effects for other species.”

Savannakhet Eld’s deer Project

The only known population of Eld’s deer in Laos occurs within the Savannakhet Eld’s deer sanctuary. One of the most important activities of the project is carried out by Village Conservation Teams inside the sanctuary. They patrol the forest, often for several days at a time to look for signs of illegal activity and monitor the deer population.
Mr. Inthava Phailoungphone, Head of Sanamxai Village Conservation Team
“It’s not easy, but we have a responsibility to do it. The Eld’s deer is part of our culture, our way of life, and has been here as long as we have. If something happens to the deer, or their population decreases, this can bring bad luck for our community.
We do research, like monitoring the deer and recording illegal activity. Some of the other men and I do this, but as we are a small village and very tightly knit going into the dry forest for days on end is a family affair. We get so excited seeing baby deer as it means the numbers are rising and we are doing our job well.”

Nam Pouy NPA Elephant Conservation

Nam Pouy NPA is located in Xayabouly Province in northwest Laos and is considered to hold one of the country’s most important elephant populations. WWF, in partnership with the government, seeks to improve the quality and therefore effectiveness of patrols to deter poachers and people carrying out illegal activity.
Mr. Sengphet Savangvong, Leader of Nam Pouy Patrol Team
“I graduated from university after studying forestry and was looking for work. I didn’t want to end up in an office, so when I heard about this opportunity with the NPA, I moved straight to Xayabouly. The forest is calming and the life in it just amazing. However, it’s tough on patrol. We must spend 4-6 days in there, sleeping in hammocks or tents if it’s the rainy season, and do that every 2-3 weeks.
But the rewards and immense. Every summer we see the elephants all the time, as they come back from remote areas along their migratory routes. If we can get enough patrols and good training, I know we can protect the elephants. At the end of the day, I enjoy my job and am doing positive work in it; these are two very important things.”
Dry forest in southern Laos
© Ian Lacey / WWF-Laos Enlarge
Rattan basket weaving
© Bounheaung Khampa Enlarge
Xe Sap forest in the mist
© Thomas Calame Enlarge
Mr Phailoungphone (back row, third right) and the Sanamxai Village Conservation Team
© Ian Lacey / WWF-Laos Enlarge
Mr. Savangvong (second left) and the Nam Pouy NPA Patrol Team
© Khamkhoun Khounboline / WWF-Laos Enlarge