Project Anoulak was initiated in 2012 and based in Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area (NNT NPA) in central-eastern Laos.
Develop and implement innovative, multidisciplinary and sustainable approaches to biodiversity & ecosystem scientific research and conservation at a local scale, in Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area, with a passionate and dedicated team of nationals and internationals.
The restoration of the biodiversity of NNT NPA with empowered local community as principal actors and advocates for the safeguard of the habitat and wildlife through conscious and informed sustainable livelihoods and development.
A strong, dedicated, passionate and skillful scientific community of young Lao nationals acting together for the sustainable future of Laos’ forest, biodiversity, environment and people.
Project Anoulak’s activities are developed and implemented around four main components:
- Scientific research
- Capacity building
- Habitat protection
- Environmental education and community involvement
Significance of Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area
Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area (NNT NPA) is ranked as a priority for its high biodiversity contribution at the National and Global scale (Robichaud et al., 2001), falling in the heart of one of the richest regions of Southeast Asia in terms of biodiversity and endemism (Catullo et al., 2008).
The NNT NPA is also one of the identified ‘key biodiversity areas’ within the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot (Tordoff et al., 2012). This is notably due to the unique ecosystem characteristic of the Annamite mountain range where some of the last large mammal discoveries took place (for example the Critically Endangered saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis): Dung et al., 1993; Schaller and Rabinowitz, 1995; the Endangered large-antlered muntjac (Muntiacus vuquangensis): Tuoc et al., 1994; Schaller and Vrba, 1996; the Data Deficient Annamite muntjac (M. truongsonensis): Giao et al., 1998; Timmins et al., 1998).
NNT NPA is home to nine species of primates, including one of the world’s largest populations of Endangered red-shanked douc (Pygathrix nemaeus) (Coudrat et al., 2014) and white-cheeked gibbons Nomascus spp. (Coudrat & Chanthalaphone, 2014; Rawson et al., 2011; Duckworth, 2008; MAF, 2011).
Project Anoulak is currently involved in ecological research on doucs and gibbons.
Status of the White-Cheeked Gibbon in Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area
The taxonomic status of the gibbons in NNT NPA remains uncertain (Van Ngoc Thinh, 2010).
It is currently speculated that both Critically Endangered N. leucogenys and Endangered N. siki occur in NNT NPA with the Nam Kading/Nam Theun (river) being the major geographical barrier between the two species, suggesting that both species could occur in NNT NPA (Van Ngoc Thinh et al., 2010). This is however yet to be confirmed with additional field samples (genetic and acoustic) required.
Gibbon calls are taxonomically distinct between species (Van Ngoc Thinh et al., 2011). Project Anoulak will be collecting acoustic samples of gibbons at several locations in NNT NPA and collaborate with organizations/project working in surrounding sites for additional acoustic samples recordings to investigate the taxonomy of gibbons in central Laos. This will have considerable importance to re-evaluate the global conservation status of white-cheeked gibbons and for developing species management plans in the region.
ASAP Species That We Work On
White-cheeked gibbons have a restricted global range. They are endemic to Laos and Vietnam. The Northern White-Cheeked Gibbon (N. leucogenys) is suspected to now be ecologically extinct from China (Fan et al., 2013).
In Vietnam, white-cheeked gibbons have already faced local extirpation at several sites due to primate-targeted hunting and habitat loss and the remaining populations are declining at a dramatic rate (Blair et al., 2011; Rawson et al., 2011). The same is expected to occur in the future in Laos if no conservation action is taken rapidly. Other more accessible forested parts of Laos have already been depleted of their core populations compared to the early 1990s (MAF, 2012; Duckworth, 2008; Rawson et al., 2011; Duckworth, in litt.).
NNT NPA represents the country’s NPA with the best potential for the long-term conservation of white-cheeked gibbons and for their long-term global conservation. However, the demand from Vietnam and China, specifically for gibbon bones used in traditional medicine (Nooren & Claridge, 2001), means that as these species’ populations are decreasing in Vietnam at an alarming rate, the threat on Lao populations are (especially at the Vietnam border) increasing.
Gibbons have been regularly traded in Laos (Davidson et al., 1997; Nooren & Claridge, 2001). NNT NPA shares an international border of ~150 km with Vietnam, which has been a principal problem behind the widespread illegal activities occurring in the area (Robichaud et al., 2009; Coudrat, 2013). Both Lao and Vietnamese illegally hunt in the area. While Lao villagers may have once hunted solely for local consumption, they are today increasingly trading hunted wildlife with Vietnamese visitors (Coudrat, 2013).
Project Anoulak hopes to ensure the long-term conservation of gibbons at the research site (as well as other species present) by their long-term monitoring and site patrolling and permanent presence of the team.
What We Do
Project ANOULAK is conducting preliminary research on the behavioural ecology of gibbons in Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area.
Given the current status of gibbon species across their range and in particular of white-cheeked gibbons, urgent action is needed to improve in-situ and ex-situ conservation management. Understanding the ecology of these species is one of the first steps in the development of conservation management plans and guidelines. The ecology of N. leucogenys and N. siki are virtually unknown. In fact, only one study has ever been published on the ecology of N. leucogenys (only in Chinese; Hu et al., 1989) and none so far on N. siki. Studies will therefore provide novel data on their behavioural ecology, which will in turn be valuable for their in-situ and ex-situ conservation management.
Gaining knowledge about aspects of nutrition of a threatened species has great implications for its conservation management both in-situ and ex-situ. Information collected from in-situ conservation will allow us to identify key plant species that are essential in the ecology of the red-shanked douc. This will in turn aid the development of management strategies and action plans for the species by prioritizing key resources and suitable habitats for the species across their range. In addition, this will help to inform reforestation projects and species re-introduction programs. Ex-situ conservation will also greatly benefit from this project as red-shanked doucs are amongst the most difficult species to keep in captivity due to their specialized diet and digestive system. Results of this project will be shared to zoos and rescue centers hosting the douc species. With the current status of the species in the wild, it is crucial to understand today all aspects of the natural ecology of red-shanked doucs to inform in the future potential captive breeding/re-introduction programs how best to manage the species in captive settings.
Gaining knowledge about other aspects of the species’ behavioural ecology including habitat requirement and use, group dynamic, home range and activities will also help us better understand the need of the species to improve its protection at this site and at other site across its range.
The presence of Project Anoula’s research teams on site indirectly contribute to the conservation of the area by deterring poachers (Laurance, 2013). In addition, the project is complemented by a Primate Monitoring and Protection Unit funded by Ocean Park Conservation Fund, HK to actively follow groups of doucs and gibbons for their population monitoring and patrols around the research site. Doucs and gibbons are acting as the flagship and umbrella species for the other key species occurring the in the area as well as for the protection of the forest and the whole ecosystem.
Project Anoulak also collaborates with the management authority of Nakai-Nam Theun National protected Area to coordinate and join efforts for field patrolling. The Project Anoulak team provides technical advice to the management authority regarding protection and wildlife research.
Young Lao students (students, Bachelor or Masters graduates) are trained and supervised as research assistants. The training received will provide them with the skills to pursue a career in conservation. One of the main issues encountered in Laos by conservation projects is the lack of skilled human resources. Given the low capacity of the country in this field, the training of Lao nationals in this project will have a major positive impact on the next generation of Lao biologists/conservationists.
In addition, all the rest of the staff will be hired from the local community and receive training for the specific tasks they will be responsible for in the project, including patrolling, data collection, field station maintenance. Regular presentations updates will be provided in villages. A long-term conservation education project based in village schools is planned in the future to follow up on a pilot education project we conducted in 2014.
In 2014, Project Anoulak started implementing the “Biodiversity Literacy Project” in several village schools within the protected area.
Thirty-one villages occur within the NPA, with a high population growth of 3.8% relying on forest products for their subsistence livelihood. Teaching levels are low and education materials are almost inexistent. Villagers are generally not aware of the National or Global status of local species and did not receive any basic environmental and natural education.
Informing villagers about the local species’ status, ecology and importance for human’s wellbeing are crucial for the long-term protection of the ecosystem. Our Biodiversity Literacy Project will build pride and empower communities to be actors in the protection of the ecosystem. The Project is targeting school children, the next generation.
The Biodiversity Literacy Project aims to positively contribute to the ecosystem protection through:
- Increasing knowledge about nature, forests, wildlife and the environment and their importance for human well-being
- Empowering and building pride for the protection of the ecosystem
- Increasing knowledge about national laws on hunting regulations
- Engaging and inspiring the next generation for wildlife conservation
- Training the village’s teachers to integrate conservation education activities in their curriculum
Where We Work
Based in Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area (NNT NPA) in central-eastern Laos.
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