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    Kaeng Krachan: The Kingdom’s largest national park - Part One

    Hidden natural beauty in Southwest Thailand


    Rainbow over the Phetchaburi watershed

    One of the country’s most astonishing natural wonders is snuggled along the border with Burma in the southwest provinces of Phetchaburi and Prachuap Kirikan. This magnificent forest is part of the great rugged Tenasserim Range running from the province of Tak in the north, to Phang Nga in the south. It has evolved over millions of years into a spectacular wilderness showcasing an amazing array of wild flora and fauna.


    Asian leopard camera-trapped on old logging road

    Kaeng Krachan is the largest national park in the nation covering a vast area of 2,915 square kilometres of mostly dense mountainous with moist-evergreen, dry-evergreen and mixed deciduous forests. The highest peak is on the border at over 1,500 meters and the second is Phaneon Thung Mountain at 1,207 meters. The park is one of the richest biospheres on the planet with Sundaic and Indochinese species intermingled and still surviving in the interior.


    A great hornbill lifting off a fruit tree

    The Phetchaburi and Pranburi Rivers are two very important watersheds that flow through the protected area to the lowlands. There are more than 70 species of fish plus the animals feeding on them including the Siamese crocodile, fishing cat, buffy fish-owl, lesser fish-eagle and smooth-coated otter all found here in fair numbers except for the crocodile. So far, only one individual has been recorded. However, it is a harmonious ecosystem filled with wild animals and real-life stories of nature’s remarkable creatures living here for millennia.


    Bull elephant camera-trapped at a mineral deposit

    In some areas tigers, leopards, elephants, gaur, tapir and many other superlative creatures thrive. Other carnivores include the clouded leopard, marbled cat, Asian wild dog, Asiatic jackal, sun bear, black bear and a host of smaller civets, badger, mongoose and banded linsang. Prey species comprise of sambar, both species of muntjac (the rare Fea’s and the more common barking deer), mouse deer, serow, wild pig, stump-tailed macaque, gibbon, langur and porcupine to mention just a few. There are over 400 bird species recorded plus a multitude of reptiles and amphibians, thousands of insect and plant species.


    Gaur camera-trapped at the same mineral deposit

    Unfortunately, Kaeng Krachan is under serious threat from people inside and outside the park, who continue to poach the flora and fauna, and encroach on the forest. There are several Karen and Karang villages situated in the northeast section of the park along the Phetchaburi River. With easy access, these people continue to enter the interior in search of food and perpetrate other harmful activities. Also, human trafficking from Burma has been documented using the park’s waterways. Over the long run, these ethnic people with their unrestricted population growth will overcome many new areas in search of a livelihood.


    Gaur herd spooked by camera-trap at another mineral deposit in the interior

    Another very damaging aspect is excessive visitation by tourists who basically tend to destroy natural habitat through sheer numbers, especially during holidays and long-weekends. Another serious problem is over-development and expansion of the previous facilities by the park authorities to increase visitors, hence more money into the coffers. This increase in tourism has had a negative effect on the protected area. There seems to be no concept of carry capacity as is practiced at national parks in the west.


    Indochinese tiger abstract in Kaeng Krachan

    The Phechaburi watershed area also needs special zoning to keep the hordes of people out who leave trash and other unwanted things behind. Chopping trees down and marking them permanently with machetes is another serious problem. I once saw a middle-class man and his six member family hiking down to the famous nine-tiered Thor Thip waterfall all carrying walking staffs cut from young trees at the top near the car park.


    Buffy fish-owl landing by the Phetchaburi River

    I have also seen and camera-trapped hunting groups sneaking into the park during the rainy and dry season with local Karen porters as guides. The only thing these people do right is pay the small fee at the park entrance. The chief and most of the staff stay down in the park headquarters hardly ever policing this place.


    Asian tapir posing in the Phetchaburi River

    Kaeng Krachan is probably the second best area for tigers and leopards in the Kingdom. It is one of my favourite wilderness areas after more than 15 years of experience photographing wildlife here, and I have watched it slide slowly downhill. Poor management and low budgets have plagued this place for years. It is hoped the Thai government will improve patrolling and enforcement, and preserve this magnificent place before it is too late. Quick and decisive steps need to be taken now to insure its survival for present and future generations to enjoy.


    Asian tapir swimming in the Phetchaburi River

    Part Two of this thread will focus on the rare and endangered species found in Kaeng Krachan.
    Last edited by Bruce Kekule; 04-09-2010 at 06:57 PM.

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    nice photo's

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    Mmmm, Bowling...... mobs00's Avatar
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    Got any pics of Gaur tracks to show just how big they really are?
    Last edited by mobs00; 05-09-2010 at 08:39 AM.

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    All great shots but I really love the Tapir shots.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pangsida View Post
    All great shots but I really love the Tapir shots.
    Pangsida,

    Thanks for the comment and I'm glad you like the tapir. It was an extremely lucky shot. Regrets that I have not answered earlier. Just got back from Kenya for a two week safari which will be a thread one of these days. Actually, I'm headed your way on Wed. to do a presentation for Freeland and I think it's in Pang Sida this time. Maybe we could meet up for a coffee.

    Cheers,
    Bruce

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    Quote Originally Posted by mobs00 View Post




    Got any pics of Gaur tracks to show just how big they really are?
    Mobs, actually I do have some shots but I'll have to dig them out. Give me a litte bit of time.

    Bruce

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    Mid
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    Hi Bruce , your contributions add priceless value to TD , thank you very much .

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    Quote Originally Posted by pangsida View Post
    All great shots but I really love the Tapir shots.
    Me too.
    I am quite sure that I have seen that shot on the cover of a book.

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    Amazing photos, Bruce. Can you (or anyone) provide any tips concerning how best to enjoy the park? Where to stay, good hiking trails, etc. Kaeng Krachan is very appealing, but spending time there and exploring seems a lot more complicated than doing so in Khao Yai or Phu Kradeung.

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    Thanks. I had something a little rougher in mind, but at my age perhaps this would be more appropriate.

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    Thanks. More superb photos. Can't wait for your endangered species post.

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    Hi Bruce is it possible to do any kind of statistical analysis on your photo results of tigers to work out how many might actually still be roaming Thailand's jungles?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mid View Post
    Hi Bruce , your contributions add priceless value to TD , thank you very much .
    Mid,

    Thanks very much for your kind words about me work. Sorry for the delay in answering you. I just got back from Kenya in Africa on a photographic safari. It was absolutely amazing. I will do a thread on the trip soon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pescator View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by pangsida View Post
    All great shots but I really love the Tapir shots.
    Me too.
    I am quite sure that I have seen that shot on the cover of a book.
    Pescator,

    That shot of a tapir is on my book Wild Rivers. It surely was a lucky day for me as a wildlife photographer. These aquatic mammals are really hard to see being mostly nocturnal. I certainly cherish that day back in March 2005. Thanks for your continued interest in my work.

    Bruce

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    Quote Originally Posted by robuzo View Post
    Amazing photos, Bruce. Can you (or anyone) provide any tips concerning how best to enjoy the park? Where to stay, good hiking trails, etc. Kaeng Krachan is very appealing, but spending time there and exploring seems a lot more complicated than doing so in Khao Yai or Phu Kradeung.
    Robuzo,

    Thanks for your kind response. There are quite a few places (resorts) around Kaeng Krachan that are quite nice for a weekend stay. However, it would be better to get a very good tent (waterproof) and stay in the park at two locations; Ban Krang (middle station) or up at Phaneon Thung station at the top. There are several nature trails from both sites, and a tough climb down to Tor Thip waterfall at the end of the road at kilometer 36. However, it does take a good 4-wheel drive to get there safely. Also, by staying in the park, you only pay once instead of going in and out and having to pay the fee everyday. If possible, go during the week, it is much more pleasant with fewer people. If you take a trek, ask one of the local rangers to guide you and pay him the asking price. Kaeng Krachan is an amazing place and for wildlife, it is still one of the best national parks in the country with tigers, leopards and many more wonderful creatures.

    Cheers, Bruce

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    Quote Originally Posted by APMann View Post
    Hi Bruce is it possible to do any kind of statistical analysis on your photo results of tigers to work out how many might actually still be roaming Thailand's jungles?
    APMann,

    Thanks for your kind remarks. To determine how many tigers are left in Thai jungles would be a tough job. However, with dedicated scientific based camera-trapping, and track and feces survey, a good estimate can be achieved. All my work in Kaeng Krachan was based on two aspects; 1) to do a basic presence/absence program in conjunction with WWF-Thailand who provided funding and the Department of National Parks who gave permission at several areas in the park. 2) camera-trapping was used to supplement my regular through the lens work. During the course of this program, I saw many tigers and leopards on film plus other creatures like elephants, gaur, sambar, fishing cat, etc.

    There is a dedicated tiger research program in Huai Kha khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in the West. They have been able to count as many as 75 individuals which means a good sustainable breeding population by the use of camera-trapping. It is the only place left in Thailand where this occurs. Other areas like Thap Lan-Pang Sida, Kaeng Krachan-Kui Buri, Sai Yok and other places in the west still have tigers but there numbers are low due to persecution for their bones and hide.

    Research aside, the only real solution to bringing back the tiger in areas where they occur is absolute protection and enforcement. That is the key for the future of the tiger but the way things go in Thailand, it will continue to be a lesser priority than say, promoting the national parks to create revenue. I continue to fight for better standards and patrolling programs for the rangers. It is an up-hill battle but worth fighting for. Cheers, Bruce

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    Thailand Expat Bobcock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Kekule
    the only real solution to bringing back the tiger in areas where they occur is absolute protection and enforcement
    Shame tigers weren't born in countries where this would be achieveable from the top down.

    Bruce, how far away from publishing your next book?

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    Kaeng Krachan national park was established in 1981 as the 28th national park in Thailand. It is the largest national park in Thailand with 2,915 square kilometers of forest in the watersheds of the Phetchaburi and Pranburi rivers. It includes portions of Nong Ya Plong, Kaeng Krachan and Tha Yang districts in Phetchaburi province and of Hua Hin in Prachuab Khiri Khan province.

    The park includes a reservoir lake, waterfalls, caves, mountains. It is almost entirely covered with evergreen forest which supports ecologically, economically and scientifically valuable plants and animals including many wild elephants. The park is an excellent place for recreation and education.

    Keang Krachan dam, at the middle of the eastern border of the park, is the first earthern dam constructed in Thailand. Its reservoir is fed by forested watershed which extend to the Tenasserim mountain range dividing the watersheds of the Gulf of Siam and the Andaman Sea.

    The park is composed of two major watersheds. About half of the area drains into the Phetchaburi river which flows to Kaeng Krachan dam at the eastern edge of the park (near the headquarters) and then down through farmland to the provincial capital of Phetchaburi. The southern haft of the park drains into the Pranburi river which flows south to the Pranburi dam and then to the town of Pranburi in Prachuab Khiri Khan province. Because of abundant rainfall and healthy forest cover in these watersheds, the streams, waterfalls and rivers of Keang Krachan flow year round.

    Humidity remains high throughout the year with heavy rain during the rainy season, and cool weather for much of the year. The steep forested areas of the park are even more humid than the young forest and cleared lands in the lower elevations.

    Due to the high humidity of evergreen forest there are many economically valuable trees such as Afzelia, Hopea, Dipterocarpus, Lagerstroemia, Pterocarpus, Aquilaria and many more. Wild life includes elephant, gaur, banteng, barking deer, gibbon, wild pig and birds.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bobcock View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Kekule
    the only real solution to bringing back the tiger in areas where they occur is absolute protection and enforcement
    Shame tigers weren't born in countries where this would be achieveable from the top down.

    Bruce, how far away from publishing your next book?
    Bobcock, my mission in life is to give the tigers and all the other animals and ecosystems a chance at survival into the future. It needs concerted efforts by many individuals and organizations. Progress is always slow but better than none.

    I hope to have my next book out sometime next year. It will be unusual as you will see but you'll have to be patient like a wildlife photographer. Thanks for your comments.
    Bruce

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    Absolutely, you efforts are excellent. This can be achieved if you have support from the top downwards, sadly I would doubt that is forthcoming.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bobcock View Post
    Absolutely, you efforts are excellent. This can be achieved if you have support from the top downwards, sadly I would doubt that is forthcoming.
    Bobcock,

    Seriously, if you have an urge to get into the wild of Kaeng Krachan, you can go as an ordinary person. It does not take the 'topdogs' to get in and photograph the wildlife. I was fortunate in my early years as a wildlife photographer as mentioned is a story I did recently about the leopard. Probably the most important is to have a vehicle with the 4X4 drive and your off. Buy your ticket at the gate and up you go. You can rent those Suzuki 4X4's fairly cheaply if you don't have a car.

    As you the park, you'll see loads of elephant droppings left by the giants, usually at night. But sometimes they are by the side of the road at a mineral lick 10 kms. from the front gate. Pitch your tent at the campground and go exploring. It's that simple. And finally, if you have a family, take them too. It's well worth the effort and expense.

    Cheers,
    Bruce

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    FarangRed
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    Here's me thinking we already live in an animal loving nation, Thailand I mean

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    Banteng: Lost in Kaeng Krachan

    Additional information on Kaeng Krachan is appreciated. However, banteng, the rare wild cattle, has not been reported, seen or camera-trapped for more than five years. The last camera-trap photos of a banteng bull were captured around 'Bong Phrom' (mineral lick) about 12 kilometers from the main gate in 2002-2003. I also have a photo of a banteng cow in 2004. These beautiful creatures prefer open deciduous forest in the lowlands and have probably been wiped out by poachers some time ago; a sad fact.

    On the other hand, gaur the wild forest ox, prefer evergreen forest and are thriving quite well in the interior. My second post on Kaeng Krachan will highlight some of the endangered species still found here and is in tne works. Coming soon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Kekule View Post
    Additional information on Kaeng Krachan is appreciated. However, banteng, the rare wild cattle, has not been reported, seen or camera-trapped for more than five years. The last camera-trap photos of a banteng bull were captured around 'Bong Phrom' (mineral lick) about 12 kilometers from the main gate in 2002-2003. I also have a photo of a banteng cow in 2004. These beautiful creatures prefer open deciduous forest in the lowlands and have probably been wiped out by poachers some time ago; a sad fact.

    On the other hand, gaur the wild forest ox, prefer evergreen forest and are thriving quite well in the interior. My second post on Kaeng Krachan will highlight some of the endangered species still found here and is in tne works. Coming soon.
    Still quite a few banteng in eastern Cambodia. . .right? Wouldn't be much point in attempting to re-establish them in places like KK so long as the trade in bush meat continues, I suppose.

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