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Thailand’s wildlife is thriving in shutdown, but maybe not for long

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Thailand’s wildlife is thriving in shutdown, but maybe not for long | The Thaiger
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by Ben Schaye

There have been a lot of viral news stories going around Thailand the last few weeks about the way wildlife is rebounding while humans are all hunkered down at home under Covid-19 lockdown. Dugongs (sea cows) have been seen frolicking off the coast of Trang, a pod of false killer whales appeared near Koh Lanta, and endangered leatherback sea turtles have been laying eggs on beaches in numbers not seen in years.

There is a serious threat toward wildlife looming though, and this drop in tourism can create its own problems for animals. While it’s great that the pressures of mass tourism have eased up on these creatures, if people don’t have work and income, that pressure will be replaced by poaching and unsustainable hunting.

Thailand is a solidly middle-income, developing country. Extreme poverty is low, and hunger is close to non-existent, or at least they were when times were good. Now with much of the economy shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus, millions of people are out of work and facing difficult times. If this goes on much longer, it’s not a question of if, but when some of those people will turn toward poaching, illegal hunting, and fishing with cyanide or even dynamite.

While high profile stories of poachers and land encroachers are often in the news in Thailand, the country actually does a lot to protect its marine and land-based ecosystems. In the last few years, popular islands and beaches such as Maya Bay have been closed indefinitely, while areas like the Similan and Surin Islands are closed for half the year to allow ecosystems to recover from humans.

Thailand’s national parks also offer habitat protection to thousands of species including thousands of wild elephants whose populations have finally stabilized after decades of decline.

All of this may be under threat from the effects of the economic shutdown. While marine and national parks have yet to see layoffs or budget cuts, that could change as budgets are strained across all government sectors. These parks and reserves typically have money flowing in each day from admission fees but have been closed now for around a month and counting. Any staff cuts would make it easier for poachers to sneak in and out of these areas, while pay cuts could tempt rangers to accept bribes, or become poachers themselves.

Unlike many other countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand has mostly done away with unsustainable fishing practices such as dynamite fishing or using cyanide to poison waters and kill fish. These practices that were once widespread have become quite rare due to a combination of strong enforcement and better education, but a cratering economy might threaten these gains. Desperation may lead people back into such unsustainable methods, and few things cause as much desperation as not having enough food to feed your family.

The solution to this problem needs to address the short and the long term. For now, Thailand needs to provide a way for its citizens to meet their basic needs. They also need to ensure that wildlife protection officials are still on the job and still being paid to patrol and keep poachers out.

In the longer term, there are lessons to be learned from the way wildlife is thriving right now while tourism is practically non-existent. More beaches and islands may need to be closed off, at least for temporary periods of time. There may also be value in closing off open areas of the ocean to boat traffic so that wildlife can gather there undisturbed.

There is a constant give and take between sustainability and economic development. Tourism is a crucial part of the Thai economy, and closing off too many areas will inevitably hurt locals and the broader industry. However, not doing enough will mortgage the future and ultimately be even more painful. Let’s hope the government can get this right. For now, we all need to come together to help out our neighbors and our communities. Meanwhile, let’s hope the animals enjoy their own little holiday in Thailand away from the stresses of ordinary life.

Ben has a blog at It’s Better In Thailand

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Environment

Thailand on fire – NASA satellite website tracks the country’s farm fires

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Thailand on fire – NASA satellite website tracks the country’s farm fires | The Thaiger

Thailand is burning. The burning off of harvested crop plantations is lighting up the agricultural areas. The truth is starkly revealed in the live NASA satellite feeds which track the fires around the world.

Thailand on fire - NASA satellite website tracks the country's farm fires | News by The Thaiger

CHART: Fires in the past 10 days around parts of Thailand – Firms.Modaps

Concentrations of the current fires can be seen in Central Thailand, north of Bangkok, parts of Isaan, north east of Bangkok, and around Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Notably the concentration of fires in northern Cambodia and across the north-western border in Myanmar, is also causing plenty of problems as the foreign smoke drifts across the borders. No matter what Thai officials do to enforce the rice, sugar and corn plantation burn-offs, there is little they can do about the haze drifting across the borders.

Bangkok, so close to clusters of fires, is in for a bad air pollution day anytime the light winds of the start of the year blow from the north or the east. The lack of rain adds to the problem, the annual problem, that engulfs Thailand’s capital during days between December and April, with the worst month, statistically, being March.

The alternative method of preparing for the next harvest, mechanical removal of the refuse and waste after harvesting, is both unpopular in Thailand and economically unviable for the small farmers whose margins remain thin with the multi-national buyers of their produce pushing for lower and lower prices every year.

In Chiang Mai, from January to the end of March, the locals even call it the ‘burning season’. Coupled with the hot season, the farmers in northern Thailand burn their fields to prepare land for the next harvest and also to get rid of biowastes like corn that can’t be sold in the market. It’s officially illegal to do the burn offs but the lack of enforcement leaves the problem unresolved and the smog and haze remain as predictable as the annual wet season.

Chiang Mai also has a local geographic problem which exacerbates the bad smoke pollution. The city is in a valley, surrounded by hills, trapping in the smoke and helping block any breezes that could otherwise blow it away.

For today, Bangkok’s air pollution is better than the past two days but still registering as ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ with city readings mostly between 140 – 170. Parts of the city, mostly south-east and south west, were registering readings above 300 in the past few days.

Thailand on fire - NASA satellite website tracks the country's farm fires | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: IQair.com

Watch this video for some more information about Bangkok’s smog…

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Thailand

Wildfires hit Mae Hong Son’s Pai district

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Wildfires hit Mae Hong Son’s Pai district | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Nation Thailand

Several wildfires have broken out in Mae Hong Son’s Pai district in Northern Thailand. The governor says he believes that several blazes happening in the area are a result of the dry season arriving earlier than usual.

Using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer system, the local forest fire control centre detected 155 so-called “heat points” in the Pai district from January 1 to 12. Last year’s dry season only 96 heat points were detected.

There are no reports of property damages, injuries, or deaths.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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Dead whale found washed up on Koh Samui beach

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Dead whale found washed up on Koh Samui beach | The Thaiger
PHOTO: สิทธิโรจน์ แก้วหนองเสม็ด

A dead Bryde’s whale was found washed up on Koh Samui’s Choeng Mon beach yesterday. By the look of the rotting carcass, said to be around 11 metres long, marine resource specialist Thon Thamrongnawasawat says he believes the whale died several days ago. The cause of death is currently under investigation by the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, Thon said on Facebook.

“Currently, there are about 50 Bryde’s whales in the Gulf of Thailand. That means the situation of whales is still good and better than the dugongs. But I wish that there were no more 5 deaths per year from natural causes. If the death is over this limit, that will be worrying.”

The Bryde’s whales are spotted around the upper part of the Gulf of Thailand all year round, especially on the coastlines of Chonburi, Samut Prakan, Chachoengsao, Bang Khun Thian district of Bangkok, Samut Songkram and Petchaburi provinces.

SOURCE: Facebook | DMCR

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