Thap Lan National Park (TLNP), part of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the Vulnerable Thailand Rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis), a slow-growing species that reaches heights of 25-30m and displays a specific ability to enhance forest conditions and soil fertility.
This hardwood timber species is, however, increasingly sought after for decorative furniture and luxury flooring. The high value of rosewood, varying from US$6,000 per cubic meter on international trade markets to US$50,000 on the Chinese black market, has fueled a rapid increase in rosewood poaching, reaching epidemic levels in TLNP. Groups of over 30 armed and violent rosewood poachers are laying siege to the park's rosewood, also poaching wildlife and threatening the lives of enforcement rangers. Lacking equipment, patrol provisions and training, the TLNP staff has been unable to safely quell this severe threat.
Only 80,000-100,000 trees were estimated to remain in the country in 2011, making the current poaching boom all the more worrying. The disappearance of other species of rosewood has been observed to cause long-term ecological damage, such as allowing the proliferation of invasive plants and leading to a reduction in local biodiversity and wildlife habitat. Economically, the species' local extinction would deprive rural communities from a potentially sustainable income source.
To address this problem, the project team from FREELAND will be working with Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation to increase the capacity of the National Park to prohibit and deter rosewood poaching.
Thirty TLNP forest rangers will be trained on law enforcement tactics and skills, with courses on various themes such as Observation/Surveillance Skills, Hostile Engagement and Crime Scene Processing. The project will moreover fund field food rations to enable more patrols and procure equipment that is essential for rangers to document poachers' activities or call for back-up if hostile engagement occurs: GPS receivers, satellite phone and radios, for example.
The project will promote the institutionalisation of park-based monitoring and reporting systems, leveraging a Conservation Area Management Information System called "MIST". To further reinforce strategic planning and practices, the project team will support the National Park management in streamlining support from other Thai enforcement agencies.
The goal of this project is to immediately secure the safety of rangers and reduce the threat to TLNP's Thailand Rosewood and biodiversity through the elimination of rosewood poaching. By investing in TLNP's front-line rangers and by developing park-based monitoring and reporting mechanisms, the project will rapidly improve the effectiveness and safety of patrolling operations as well as increase their frequency. Coordinating efforts with other government stakeholders will also contribute to stepping up the fight against rosewood poaching.