18th April 2018, Minister H.E. General Surasak Karnjanarat, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment , and Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Director General Thanya Netithammakun visited Thap Lan National Park as part of a follow-up program to check on progress and conservation activities at this World Heritage Site.
During the visit they met with two civil society groups initiated by IUCN Member-Freeland Foundation under two CEPF projects; the Soeng Sang Conservation club and the Wang Mee Conservation Club. Both groups now operate independently and conduct various conservation activities in support of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai World Heritage site, where they have become the eyes and ears cooperating with park authorities. Much of their work is related to elephant conservation and monitoring associated crop-raiding iinclududing mitigating farmers thoughts of reprisals.
The Minister was able to chat to both groups about their work helping preserve the biodiversity of the World Heritage Site. As part of the two groups sustainability plans they sell merchandise related to their work, such as t-shirts and His Excellency eagerly purchased a shirt to help support their activities. He welcomed their help, which stems directly from two communities, Soeng Sang at Thap Lan National Park and Wang Mee at Khao Yai National Park. He was able to talk at length with Ms. Arun Kaewsamakki who is the Director of the Wang Mee Conservation Club, who explained about the dangers of elephant crop raiding and their successes helping Khao Yai National Park initiate measures to solve problems with errant elephants.
The concept of establishing small locally focussed civil society groups is part of a strategy developed by Freeland in conjunction with IUCN Thailand to help protect this important World Heritage site, which unfortunately does not have a buffer zone. As the parks are starting to see wildlife populations such as elephants, gaur and tigers rebound there is an increase in wildlife leaving the parks and damaging crops and property immediately adjacent to the forest. CSOs help bridge the gap between park authorities and local communities by providing platforms for discussions and direct action such as helping areas outside the park become community forests, joint reforestation projects, mitigating crop-raiding and facilitating assistance to farmers if domestic animals are predated.
Although only two districts around Dong Phayayen presently have these conservation CSO's there is much interest from other communities to establish their own and the two original groups not only provide working models to facilitate establishment of such new groups - they provide a pool of enthusiastic volunteers willing to help others solve their problems. These groups provide an ideal and cost-effective way to solve local conservation issues by fostering and harnessing communities will to self-initiate solutions to their own problems.