Thung Yai-Huai Kha Khaeng


Spectacular and increasingly rare large mammals such as tigers, Asian elephants, banteng, and enormous gaur, wild oxen weighing a ton (900+ kg) or more, are accommodated in comfortable numbers among the wondrously rich wildlife on this huge, remote U.N. World Heritage Site. Thung Yai-Huai Kha Khaeng is a merging of two national parks covering 2,345 square miles (6,070 km2) along the western border with Myanmar (Burma) in a magnificent protected mountain terrain interspersed with riverine forests, ponds, lakes, and large grassland tracts—one of the most important reserves in Southeast Asia for these and other impressive and diminishing species. Soon it may, with proposed additions, cover almost three million acres (1.2 million ha).

Tapirs lumber through swampy lowland jungles. Rare Fea’s muntjak and hog deer graze in forest openings. The largest herd of gaur ever seen in Thailand—50 of these behemoths—was recorded here in 1985. It is last stronghold of only-slightly-smaller banteng. Serows—dark little goat-antelopes with conspicuous manes—graze high shrubby rock outcrops.

Leopards, tolerant of drier conditions than tigers, stalk smaller mammals, avoiding moist jungles dominated by their larger striped relatives. Shorter-legged clouded leopards find tree life more advantageous and leap on victims from overhead.

A half-dozen species of long-tailed catlike civets—considered most primitive of all carnivores— live arboreal lives here, including the largest, bear-like binturongs, one of only two carnivores with completely prehensile tails. Rare Phayre’s leaf monkeys are among at least 10 primate species.

Smooth-coated and short-clawed otters fish in waterways frequented by large, brilliant storkbilled kingfishers, shy, rare white-winged wood ducks and, overhead, soaring lesser fish-eagles.

Spectacular green peafowl spread iridescent trains more than six feet (2 m) long. Kalij pheasants nest inconspicuously on scrapes under bamboo clumps. An astonishing 21 kinds of woodpeckers, from white-bellied to the huge great slaty up to 20 inches (51 cm) long, hammer at tree trunks for hidden grubs.

Most of the park’s 120 mammal species as well as many of the 400 birds and 96 reptiles visit the numerous natural mineral licks. Visiting entomologists often come up with several new insect species. Lodging, also information about guides, is available in Sangkhlaburi, 21 miles (34 km) north. But this remote reserve is not easy to see, accessible—at least until recently— only by 10–12-hour journey on unsurfaced road from Bangkok via Kanchanaburi or Lan Sak, by permit only from the sanctuary chief or Wildlife Conservation Division in Bangkok.

Problems include logging, agricultural development, poaching, and insufficient funds to train local people for ranger patrol jobs. Plans have been shelved for the Nam Choan dam which would have destroyed lowland habitat for many rare species—everything below 1,200 feet (380 m) elevation—but opponents fear the dam could be revived if environmental opposition dies down. Threatened also are ethnic minority peoples who have lived sustainably here for 200 years but now are considered illegal squatters.

 


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