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Project February 15, 2024

Our World Heritage in Danger?: A Close Look Into Thailand’s Natural World Heritage Sites and Challenges


An elephant walks down the road.
Dong Phaya Yen-Khao Yai is internationally important for the conservation of globally threatened and endangered species that are recognized as being of outstanding universal value, including Asian elephants. Image by Sayan Chuenudomsavad. Thailand, 2023.

Having been designated as Natural World Heritage Sites, Thailand’s most valued forests are highly expected from the public that they can retain their ecological values that meet global recognition and the context of the new Global Biodiversity Framework.

However, the three sites—Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries, Dong Phaya Yen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, and Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex—have been facing pressure from highly charged threats, from sophisticated poaching to unsound state development, to a decades-long land rights conflict, prompting their world heritage statuses and conservation work to be critically challenged.

Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng, the country’s first Natural World Heritage Site and also the largest conservation area in mainland Southeast Asia, now needs more area integration so that it can sustain its ecological values.

The case in point is its flagship species, a tiger, which is seen breeding out of the property, thus being prone to wildlife poaching still rampant in the area.

Dong Phaya Yen-Khao Yai, on the other hand, is under pressure from large-scale dam development projects initiated by the state itself.

In 2021, The World Heritage Committee noted with “utmost concern” several dam projects within and adjacent to the property, thus reiterating its request to the country to permanently cancel the plans and come up with the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for any future proposals. No positive responses have been made as the dams are still going ahead as planned.

Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, meanwhile, is facing an even more complicated challenge following a decades-long land-rights conflict between forest dweller communities and the state, an issue that is not black nor white but continues to disrupt the site's management and the country's forest conservation paradigm from time to time with a hard-to-answer question: whether humans can really co-exist with forest life.