Ecological Surveys, Monitoring and the Involvement of Local People in Protected Areas of Lao PDR
This paper describes an alternative approach to assessing, monitoring and conserving biodiversity which has been developed by the WWF/Thailand Programme Office in collaboration with the staff and local people of four protected areas in southern Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao P.D.R.). Through Participatory Biodiversity Assessments and the use of, for example, village logbooks and joint monitoring teams of local naturalists and conservation staff, details are revealed on wildlife-habitat relationships, the diversity of habitat types, and ecological processes from both historical and seasonal perspectives. The focus on both cultural and ecological data helps to illuminate points of intersection or domains where existing local practices of resource use or belief come together with protected area priorities.~The results of these assessments and subsequent field surveys are returned to the local communities using graphic posters and maps, and allowing local interpretations of data to help advance a mutual understanding of conservation issues facing the protected area. This approach facilitates positive relationships with local people while establishing a process for integration of local ecological knowledge, and ecological monitoring of key species of large mammals and birds. Local people, if given the opportunity to discuss survey findings and observations, often provide interpretations and insights that otherwise may have been missed were the results interpreted solely by staff and advisors.~This approach, it is argued, establishes a basis for protected area collaborative management by using initial surveys as the starting point from which information emerges that is owned and used jointly by local people and protected area officials in informing management decisions. In addition, if local people can be meaningfully included in negotiations and discussions, and positive reinforcement gained through success of initially simple methods, then both sides may move forward in addressing more difficult or contentious issues.