Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thailand and Laos with a dash of Thoreau

Posted by Richard B Primack

“…for the most part it is as solitary where I live as on the prairies. It is as much Asia or Africa as New England. I have, as it were, my own sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself.” (Thoreau, Walden)

While Thoreau’s commitment to solitude was admirable, sometimes you have to leave your own little world and experience something new! Even Thoreau did embark from his beloved Concord for trips to other New England states, and occasionally even further afield.

Last month I visited Thailand and Laos for the first time. The two countries were a striking contrast; Thailand is a vibrant and rapidly developing country, while Laos is considerably less developed, without as much obvious economic activity. In both countries I met enthusiastic young wildlife ecologists who were eager to work with me to prepare conservation biology textbooks for their students. These books will be translations with local examples added in to increase their relevance. In both countries, some of the key topics being discussed are human-elephant conflicts, the impacts of new dams on fish populations, and ways to reduce poaching of endangered animals.

(With my two co-authors Sinthone Phoumkhamouane and James Cornwell in a river forest in Laos)

The highlight of my trip was a visit to Khao Yai National Park, an outstanding park two hours outside of Bangkok with a large visitor center, extensive accommodations, many trails, and food stalls. Most importantly, the park had abundant wildlife; during my visit I observed pheasants, two species of gibbons, sambar deer, barking deer, civets, four species of hornbills, and porcupines. One afternoon I saw more than a dozen hornbills feeding on fruit trees at the edge of a forest. And while I did not get to see forest elephants, their fresh dropping and trails were common. This was the most wildlife I had ever seen in a national park in the tropics, and demonstrated how numerous and visible animal life can be without any hunting pressure. The rich biodiversity at Khao Yai National Park is an example of conservation in action that will make our Thai textbook practical and relevant to students studying conservation biology.

(An elephant trail in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand as illustrated by wildlife biology Chution Savini)

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