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Big challenges for big cats: Supporting wildlife law enforcement in Lao PDR

George Stirrett's picture
A clouded leopard in the Nam-Et Phou Louey National Protected Area, taken with a camera trap.
Photo: ©Wildlife Conservation Society

Lao PDR is rich with biodiversity. The country is home to emblematic animals such as Asian Elephants, Gaur, Green Peafowls, Asiatic Black Bears, and northern White-Cheeked Gibbons. Mountainous topography and low human density have allowed the country to preserve its endemic flora and fauna for centuries, to the extent that some species are still being identified like the Saola, one of the world’s rarest large mammals, only discovered in Laos in 1992.

But recent economic growth coupled with an exploding demand for wildlife and wildlife products have fueled increased pressure on Lao PDR’s native species. Forest encroachment, illegal logging and wildlife poaching have eroded biodiversity. Forest cover has declined dramatically since 1992, the number of wildlife species listed as endangered has increased, and some iconic species like tigers have not been sighted for years. At the same time, Lao PDR has become a gateway for international wildlife trafficking: illegal trafficking of ivory, pangolins and other CITES-listed items have transited through the country due to limited enforcement capacity.

Since 2013, the World Bank has supported the Lao government, under the Second Lao Environment and Social Project, to strengthen wildlife law enforcement agencies – including the Department of Forest Inspection and key provincial agencies, Customs, and Environmental Police. We have also worked together to begin improving management of 1.25 million hectares of protected areas such as the Nam-Et Phou Louey and Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Areas.

The Nakai Nam Theun National Protected area is home to many species of monkeys.
Photo: ©Project Anoulak

The task ahead is substantial, given the fact that wildlife trafficking networks, routes, and operations are constantly changing and adapting; however, some significant results have emerged:

  • In 2016, 7 tons of wildlife were seized. This included one ton of CITES1 listed species items, while 12 live black bears and 159 live pangolins were rescued.
  • In 2017, 3.1 tons of wildlife were seized. This included 2 rhino horns from Africa. 23 live pangolins and one ton of live Tokay geckos were rescued.
  • Since the beginning of 2018, 3 Indochina tigers were seized and 6 live red pandas were rescued.  
This 2018 World Wildlife Day, the World Bank joins global efforts to protect wildlife. This year’s theme of “Big cats: predators under threat”, is encouraging people around the world to support conservation of big cats and prevent illegal hunting and poaching. Lao forests have been home to several big cats, like the Clouded Leopard, the Indochinese Leopard and the Indochinese Tiger, but these species are under threat.
Children in local communities near protected areas learn about biodiversity and native species.
Photo: ©Wildlife Conservation Society

What can you do? Consider local nature-based tourism initiatives in protected areas that economically support local communities to conserve, rather than hunt, their wildlife. Learn more about the big cats, as well as other Lao wildlife, and how you can help. Share what you learn about conservation with your friends and family, especially children, so the next generation grows up to protect our wildlife.