The Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) announced in a statement issued today (Feb 18) that the environment ministers of the Asean approved the nomination of Khao Sok National Park as the 50th Asean Heritage Park.
The designation was endorsed and recommended virtually by the 31st Meeting of the Asean Senior Officials on Environment (ASOEN) and the 22nd Meeting of the Governing Board of the ACB, hosted in Vietnam on Nov 24-25, 2020.
“We are pleased to share the news that Khao Sok National Park has joined the list of designated Asean Heritage Parks. These remarkable parks are areas of high conservation value that best represent the region’s rich natural resources and cultural identity,” said ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita Lim.
The ACB, as the secretariat of the Asean Heritage Parks (AHP) Programme, facilitates the rigorous evaluation process of the nominated protected areas to be declared as an AHP, the statement noted.
An evaluation team led by Robert Mather, technical assistance team leader of the Biodiversity Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in Asean (BCAMP) Project, together with Thai evaluators Dr Dachanee Emphandhu, and Dr Petch Manopawitr visited Khao Sok in October 2020. BCAMP is an ongoing project being implemented by the ACB with support from the European Union.
Khao Sok National Park is a 739-square kilometre terrestrial national park located in Surat Thani province, and includes the Cheow Lan Reservoir dammed by the Ratchaprapha Dam.
The park features diverse ecosystems including evergreen forest, swamp forest, and limestone forest. Wildlife species thriving in the park include the vulnerable species Mainland Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) and the endangered Malay Tapir (Tapirus indicus), as well as the largest flower Rafflesia Kerrii Meijer and the endemic flowering plant species Khaosokia caricoides. Khao Sok is adjacent to the Ratchaprapha Dam that generates power supply to its surrounding communities, the ACB noted.
Beyond its beautiful landscape, Khao Sok National Park contains important high biodiversity ecosystems including moist evergreen forest, forest over limestone, freshwater swamp forest and cave ecosystems, the ACB explained late last year when announcing the proposal to have Khao Sok recognised as an Asean heritage Park.
The park’s verdant forest is believed to “shelter over 300 different species of birds that have coexisted in the jungle for over 160 million years”, and includes at least seven critically endangered and 14 endangered species of wildlife, the ACB explained.
Khao Sok National Park receives rainfall from both the northeast and southwest monsoons, ensuring that the park is mostly covered by moist evergreen forest, together with smaller areas of forest over limestone, it added.
“Lying at the centre of the larger Khao Sok-Klong Saeng forest complex, Khao Sok is home to important populations of several large mammals such as elephants and tapir. It is the only known location in Thailand for the Storm’s stork (Ciconia stormi), the rarest of all storks, thought to number less than 500 individuals remaining in the wild.
“It is a major stronghold for helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) which was recently re-classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List due to the impact of illegal wildlife trade. The park is also home to many endemic species of plants, including Impatiens sirindhorniae, a recently discovered type of ‘touch-me-not’,” said the release.
With only 2% of the park area being used for tourism activities, Khao Sok National Park maintains a high level of naturalness, the ACB noted.
Revenues generated from recreation activities in the isolated forest include long and short distance hiking, birdwatching, nature observation, and visiting caves, as well as kayaking or rafting while wildlife watching in the reservoir support the livelihoods of communities around the park, it added.
Utharat Suksumake, BCAMP National Project Manager in Thailand, noted that “the park provides a variety of ecosystem services to the people who live next to the park. By including this as an Asean Heritage Park, the value and the awareness among locals, as well as administrative agencies will be heightened, and thereby, will support to ensure sustainable management.”
Among the ecosystem services of Khao Sok National Park is its value of recreation. Using the individual travel cost method (ITCM), the National Parks Research and Innovation Development Centre in Surat Thani Province in 2016 estimated the annual recreation value of the park at more than B1 billion. In 2019, before the COVID-19 travel restrictions, the park earned around US$2.7 million (about B82.638mn) directly from the entrance fees, the ACB noted.
Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP), the agency responsible for protected area conservation and management in the country welcomed the announcement, saying it gives the department “a feeling of accomplishment”.
“On behalf of the Thai people, DNP is delighted and proud of Khao Sok National Park becoming the 50th Asean Heritage Park (AHP),” said DNPDirector-General of Thanya Netithammakun.
Chonlathorn Chamnankid, Thailand’s AHP representative and Director of National Park Research and Innovation Centre, National Parks Office of DNP, said Khao Sok National Park, which is situated in the middle of Klong Saeng Khao Sok Forest Complex, has been a tourism destination for its ancient rainforest, limestone landscapes, and wildlife, “(providing) income and enhancing quality of life for the locals”.
Khao Sok National Park is the seventh AHP in Thailand. Other AHPs are Khao Yai National Park, Tarutao National Park, Ao Phang-Nga - Mu Ko Surin - Mu Ko Similan National Park, Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park, Hat Chao Mai National Park – Mu Ko Libong Non hunting Area.
“The designation of Khao Sok comes at an opportune time as the Asean region gears towards the recovery of the tourism sector, which is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. The Asean Heritage Parks, apart from showcasing the rich biodiversity in the region, can also be prime nature tourism destinations,” Ms Lim said.
On Feb 4, following the 24th Meeting of Asean Tourism Ministers through a video conference hosted by the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Asean ministers issued a joint statement expressing commitment to the recovery of the tourism sector, highlighting three priority areas— the “Road to Recovery”; “Towards Asean as a Single Tourism Destination”; and “Realising Sustainable, Inclusive, and Resilient Tourism Development.