by Nick Upton
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How An Endangered Species is "Cared For" in a Thai National Park: Giant Nuthatch at Doi Ang Kang
Doi Ang Kang is a frequently visited area of Northern Thailand that due to its very beautiful scenery attracts an ever-increasing number of visitors, most of them Thai, during the cool season when views are at their clearest and flowers are usually blooming. Doi Ang Kang is a part of Doi Pha Hom National Park but the area's value as a wildlife refuge is somewhat compromised by the communities living within it, the farming that they work at using huge amounts of pesticides that often kill birds that feed on treated fruits and now the enormous numbers visitors to the area.
Despite large numbers of visitors it is usually easy to get away from them by heading down a trail or by finding some corner that the crowds drive straight past and the patches of forest and open shrubland still provide a home to a wide variety of colourful and rare species.

However, on a recent visit I was quite shocked to find how a certain area had been completely ignorantly "developed" by the national park services and destroyed the nest site of an endangered species: Giant Nuthatch.

Years ago there was a small orchard at the location at which there is now a small army camp which has a superb view over the farmland of Northern Thailand. This orchard got chopped down to make clearing which is often used for camping. A few years later the national park people created a campsite in the area of pines close by and over the years there has been a gradual trend towards building of toilets, accommodation blocks etc.
However, this was all fairly low key, at least for ten months of the year when there were very few visitors to the area and birding this area still turned up regular sightings of Scarlet-faced Liocichla, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Grey-crowned Warbler, Chestnut Bunting and earlier this year I found a pair of Giant Nuthatches nesting in a large pine tree in the middle fo the area.

Giant Nuthatch at Doi Ang Kang
This Endangered species has a very small world range and given the amount of deforestation taking place in neighbouring Myanmar, the few sites in Thailand where it occurs could represent a large proportion of the population. Species like this are exactly why so many birders visit Thailand and why Thai national parks are globally important for wildlife, so imagine my disgust when I returned to the site in early December this year (2016) to find the following.

Visitor Centre at Doi Ang Kang
Both of the above photographs were taken at exactly the same spot, needless to say that the first one is unlikely to ever be repeated now that the area has a liberal covering of concrete and the large, decaying tree the nuthatches were nesting in has been felled.

One of the most basic things in managing wildlife habitats is surveying the area to know exactly what it is you are managing. Unfortunately, these people involved in the Thai national parks system would not know a Giant Nuthatch if it smacked them in the face and certainly did not engage in any environmental impact assessment before they concreted over the habitat of an endangered species. Too often foreigners visiting countries like Thailand look down upon them, comparing them unfavourably to their home countries but, I am afraid, that it is very hard for them not to see Thailand in a very negative light when the authorities supposedly responsible for running the national parks are not only diverting funds away from conservation to build obtrusive constructions but are actively involved in increasing the pressure on endangered species.

I guess the only bright side to this is that the authorities at Doi Ang Kang are not extorting 300 baht per person from visiting foreigners to fund the habitat destruction and elimination of endangered wildlife; at least not yet.
Nick Upton
Other Related Pages: Doi Ang Kang
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