THAILAND NATIONAL PARKS AND CONSERVATION

Thailand National Parks and Conservation

Wonder at the variety of Thailand's flora and fauna must be countered by near despair over environmental deterioration and dwindling wildlife. The situation is most dramatically illustrated by the rate of deforestation.

Some 50 years ago about 70% of the country was forested/ Today, official estimates put forest cover at 25-28%, while most independent observers believe the figure to be less than 20%. The problem has mostly been caused by logging and agriculture.

A logging ban was belatedly introduced in 1989, and then only after disastrous mudslides on deforested hills in the south had caused tragic loss of life. But the problem continues. The ban is by no means 100% effective, and commercial reforestation schemes have in many cases done more harm than good.

Wildlife has inevitably suffered from the destruction of natural habitats, and widespread poaching and trade in endangered animals and animal products have made matters worse.

All is not gloom, however although national parks are a comparatively recent development in Thailand (the first, Khao Yai, being established in 1962), the country now boasts 140 parks and 53 wildlife sanctuaries which together cover 13% of the total land area - a higher than average proportion.

To what degree these areas are protected is a moot point: poaching and land enroachment are persistent problems. On a positive note, the public apathy and ignorance of just over a decade ago is giving way to ever greater concern and, more importantly, action regarding environmental issues.

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