Friday, June 22, 2012

Thung Yai 1.2

Continuing excerpts from my travel journal into Thung Yai...

Thung Yai Naresuan (Thai: เขตรักษาพันธุ์สัตว์ป่าทุ่งใหญ่นเรศวร) is located at the western national border of Thailand to Burma (Myanmar), in the southern area of the Dawna Range. It and the adjacent Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (Thai: เขตรักษาพันธุ์สัตว์ป่าห้วยขาแข้ง) constitute the core area of the Western Forest Complex, totaling about 6,200 square kilometers: the largest conservation area in Mainland Southeast Asia.

Interest in protecting the two areas was sparked when Asiatic Buffalo – extinct in all other forests in Thailand – were found roaming these areas in 1965. A Royal Forest Department exploration team and Thai media people were on their way from southern Huai Kha Khaeng to the Pong Naisor salt lick when they came across a number of wild water buffalos.

Both Thung Yai and Huai Kha Khaeng were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1991, after initially being set aside as protected wildlife sanctuaries in 1974 and 1972. Besides the prestige, the functional importance of such a designation is that UNESCO pays the costs associated with the areas being wildlife sanctuaries as long as Thailand sets aside the land as such. This arrangement is important as there still remains illegal logging and wildlife hunting. Another threat to the sanctuaries is continual agricultural land conversion by displaced tribal communities – mostly Karen and Hmong.

Largely a mountainous wilderness of dry tropical forest, with rivers and streams separating lowlands and valleys, Thung Yai boasts an incredible range of flora and fauna. It is one of the last natural habitats for around 700 tigers (Panthera tigris) and has a wide variety of wildlife. There is little research on the biodiversity in the sanctuaries, but at last count there were 400 species of birds, 96 reptiles, 113 fish and 120 mammals, including leopards, gaur, bear and possibly Javan rhinos. Thirty-four internationally threatened species call Tung Yai home.

I was feeling like a member of an endangered species, myself: Homo Falang. Thais call all Westerners “Falang.” Riding in truck beds most of the time, over one of the most difficult overland routes in all of Thailand, it was rough going for this 63 year-old. Exacerbating the discomfort was the need to double-lock myself with both arms and hands holding onto roll bars horizontally and vertically, to keep from falling out or hitting my head against the roll bars themselves. This meant that my arm muscles were constantly tensed. Worse, I was facing backwards most of the time, so I could not anticipate which way the truck was going to suddenly jerk; up, down, left or right.

The first couple of days travelling from Thung Yai’s southern-most entry point on to the northwest certainly proved my initial misgivings justified. I had almost not gone on this trip. Now, toward the summit of our toughest climb, I was almost wishing I’d stayed at home. Yet, if I had not gone, I would have missed out on experiencing a habitat that few Thais and even fewer Falang got to be part of.

Part 2 of 4 (possibly 5) parts, showing video and still shots of our trip into one of the remotest areas of Thailand, Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, April 2012:

My free ebook about this trip:

No comments: