Tourists visiting the Phou Khao Khouay National Park in Laos have reported witnessing widespread logging and agricultural burning, practices that are damaging the park’s delicate ecosystem.
According to the tourists, who spoke with Laotian Times on condition of anonymity, areas of the park are being cleared for farming and other activities. The photographs show large stretches of land that have been fenced off and destroyed in preparation for agricultural planting.
Phou Khao Khouay National Park, located about 40 kilometers northeast of the capital city of Vientiane, is home to an abundance of wildlife, including several endangered species such as the Asian elephant, clouded leopard, and Asiatic black bear. The park is also an important source of water for the region and a popular tourist destination.
Experts warn that the burning and logging practices could have a devastating impact on the park’s fragile ecosystem, leading to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and increased carbon emissions. The slash-and-burn agricultural practices, while common in many parts of Southeast Asia, are particularly harmful to the environment and have been banned in several countries.
“We were riding past on the bike trail and saw all this smoking land. People had erected fences and had clearly just burned all the vegetation away so they could plant crops,” one of the tourists told the Laotian Times.
But encroachment onto the national park by farmers to plant crops and raise cattle is not new, while illegal logging continues in parts of the park as well.
A group of tourists uncovered a logging operation in the park earlier this year, witnessing loggers transporting huge volumes of timber blocks through the protected area in a caravan of carts.
Officials from the Department of Forestry, under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, say they don’t have the resources to patrol the whole area of the park but are quick to respond to tipoffs from the public.
After receiving information, the officers work with local communities and law enforcement agencies to identify those responsible and take appropriate action.
The Phou Khao Khouay National Park is a valuable natural resource and a vital part of Laos’ cultural heritage, which forestry and conservation workers are fighting hard to protect for future generations.