Laos is currently undergoing rapid economic development notably through large mining, hydropower and commercial agriculture projects (Singh, 2008). Coupled with one of the highest human population growth rates in Southeast Asia (2.1%; Lao Statistics Bureau, 2011) and a strong reliance on natural resources for local consumption (Krahn and Johnson, 2007) and illegal trade (Nooren and Claridge, 2001), the country is facing a biodiversity crisis, such has been acknowledged across Southeast Asia (Sodhi et al., 2004; Duckworth et al., 2012). Laos may hold 20 non-human primate species, depending on the taxonomy used. The majority (15) of them are listed as globally threatened in the IUCN Red List (IUCN, 2012). The countries' primates remain the least studied of the region. The current proposed research will focus on one area: Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area (NNT NPA), central eastern Laos.
NNT NPA is ranked in the priority protected areas for its high biodiversity contribution at the National and Global scale (Robichaud et al., 2001); it falls in the heart of one of the richest regions of Southeast Asia in terms of biodiversity and endemism (Catullo et al., 2008) and is one of the identified 'key biodiversity areas' within the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot (Tordoff et al., 2012). This is notably for the unique habitat characteristic of the Annamite mountain range where some of the last large mammal discoveries took place (Critically Endangered saola Pseudoryx nghetinhensis: Dung et al., 1993; Schaller and Rabinowitz, 1995; Endangered large-antlered muntjac Muntiacus vuquangensis: Tuoc et al., 1994; Schaller and Vrba, 1996; Data Deficient Annamite muntjac M. truongsonensis: Giao et al., 1998; Timmins et al., 1998). NNT NPA is home to nine species of primates, including the world's largest population of Endangered red-shanked douc Pygathrix nemaeus (Coudrat et al., in press; Coudrat et al., 2012) and one of the largest stronghold for Endangered Southern white-cheeked gibbon Nomascus siki.
With MBZ Species Conservation Fund, the project aims to initiate the country's first long-term conservation and research project on the Endangered red-shanked douc (Pygathrix nemaeus).
This project's objectives are:
The target species, the red-shanked douc (Pygathrix nemaeus) is classified as Endangered under the IUCN red list of threatened species criteria A2cd+3cd+4cd; its global population is thought to have declined by over 50% in the past 30-40 years (=three generations), a trend predicted to continue (Vu Ngoc Thanh et al., 2008). It is endemic to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia where it is highly threatened from habitat loss and illegal hunting, mainly for traditional medicine, despite its legal protection in the three countries (Coudrat et al., 2012). The population in Cambodia is restricted in the Northeast, where its status is little known and may hybridize with other douc species (Rawson & Roos, 2008). In Vietnam, populations of P. nemaeus considered the largest remaining are already relatively small (30 to up to ~2000 individuals). This is hardly surprising given their bleak status in the country, resulting from continuous deforestation and high hunting pressure (Coudrat et al., 2012; Blair et al., 2011; Lippold & Vu, 2008). The species is already locally extinct in several areas in Vietnam (VN). The population of limestone-dominated habitat Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, VN may at least stay naturally protected in its central parts, where poor accessibility prevents over-hunting (Haus et al., 2009). The population of Son Tra National Reserve, VN however is located in an increasingly human-dominated landscape and the species will only be maintained there with the on-going conservation project focussed on the species (Ulibarri & Streicher, 2012). If no action is taken, the same situation is likely to follow in Laos, at least in the most accessible areas, as (i) the species gains in value in the international trade, due to its increasing rarity and (ii) human population increases, putting more pressure on the species and its natural habitat.
The population of P. nemaeus in Laos is no doubt the world's largest remaining and the best hope for its long-term global conservation (Coudrat et al., 2012) but is currently far from being secured at this stage, due to lack and/or failure of management strategies in protected areas.
The suitable habitat for P. nemaeus in NNT NPA represents in itself the world's largest compared to forested areas where it occurs in Vietnam and Cambodia, and probably one of the largest in Laos (Coudrat et al., in press). However, wildlife in NNT NPA has been under dramatic hunting pressure from local and Vietnamese hunters both for local consumption and a lucrative international trade (Nooren & Claridge, 2001; Robichaud et al., 2009). The demand from Vietnam and China specifically for colobines' bones used in traditional medicine (Nooren & Claridge, 2001), means that as douc populations are decreasing in Vietnam at an alarming rate (demonstrated by the regular seizures by National authorities of hundreds individual hunted douc Pygathrix spp.; ENV, 2013), threat on Lao populations (especially at the Vietnam border) are likely to be increasing. Doucs have been recorded in the trade relatively often in Laos (Davidson et al., 1997; Nooren & Claridge, 2001; Phiapalath, 2009; Coudrat et al., 2012) and are often shot with guns within NNT NPA (Johnson & Johnston, 2007; PoE, 2013) likely to be traded at high prices with Vietnamese.
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Project 13256764 location - Laos, Asia