Almost exactly a year ago, on the 14th of March 2013, 33-year old Thaweesak Chomyong, a ranger working in Thailand’s Pang Sida National Park was fatally shot when a group of poachers fired upon his patrol team before fleeing the scene. This was not an isolated incident. The neighbouring Thap Lan National Park (TLNP), part of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also bearing the brunt of this poaching epidemic, in particular the poaching of Siamese rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis).
The high value of rosewood, fetching from US$6,000 per cubic meter on international trade markets to US$50,000 on the Chinese black market, has fueled a rapid increase in rosewood poaching in the park. Within a three month period in early 2013, the number of poachers photographed by camera traps increased by over 900 percent compared to the average over the previous two years. Groups of over 30 armed and violent poachers were laying siege to the park’s rosewood, poaching wildlife and threatening the lives of enforcement rangers. Lacking equipment, patrol provisions and training, the TLNP staff has been unable to effectively neutralise this growing threat.
To address this problem before it escalates even further, SOS – Save Our Species has provided a Rapid Action Grant to the FREELAND Foundation. FREELAND works with Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation to increase the capacity of the frontline staff to stop rosewood poaching. Project activities include:
Training forest guardians
The project is utilizing FREELAND’s PROTECT enforcement ranger training to provide rangers with essential skills and knowledge to safely conduct anti-poaching patrols. Thirty TLNP forest rangers are being trained on law enforcement tactics and skills, with courses on various themes such as surveillance, hostile engagement and crime scene processing. Watch FREELAND's video about the importance of PROTECT here:
Short video showing ranger training course
“Training on navigation is used quite a lot during patrols. We’ve also been able to use training in the arrest of suspects through ambushes and takedowns. We’ve also found training in reconnaissance and first aid to be very helpful as well,” remarked Salak Chairacha, Enforcement Ranger Patrol Team Leader, TLNP.
Ensuring adequate supplies
The project is also funding field food rations allowing rangers to spend more time on patrol. Extra provisions for food are increasing the number of boots on the ground, allowing for personnel from other agencies like the Royal Thai Army to join patrols and provide on-the-job training to their ranger counterparts. Participants of the PROTECT training are also receiving important equipment including custom-made backpacks, sleeping hammocks, radios, and cameras that otherwise have been lacking.
“Support from FREELAND and SOS is increasing the efficiency of patrolling in Thap Lan National Park. It is also relieving some of the expenses the rangers normally bear such as patrol provisions and equipment. We have also been able to intensify patrolling conducted to prevent the poaching of rosewood and other natural resources in the park,” acknowledged Taywin Meesap, Superintendent of TNLP.
Incorporating monitoring tools
Furthermore, the project is promoting the adoption of park-based monitoring and reporting systems, leveraging a Conservation Area Management Information System called “MIST”. Park-based monitoring through MIST databases are being improved dramatically by the collection of enforcement data on patrols and has now become a key tool in planning enforcement operations.
“MIST is helping us know more about the areas we patrol and where rosewood and other poaching is occurring. By bringing together this information in a format we can use we’re able to intensify patrols in vulnerable areas,” said Chaloaw Kotud, Enforcement Ranger Patrol Team Leader, TNLP. This tool is empowering an already motivated team of rangers whose belief in their cause is a driving force for their persistence in the face of adversity.
SOS support has improved the situation for the rangers, but challenges remain. Although enforcement capacity has increased, rosewood poachers continue to assail the park’s rosewood population. The obsolescence and poor performance of the rangers’ weapons remains a big challenge. Rangers would also like to see rewards given out to those who risk their lives and successfully catch poachers. Despite these challenges and threats, the rangers of Thap Lan National Park harbour a sense of pride both in their work and their park. On this International Day of Forests, join SOS in supporting the crucial yet dangerous work of our forest guardians.