Challenge: Local resource stewardship in tropical frontiers

Nam Tien Solutionscape is among 200 provincial and district-level protected areas, constituting 27% of the national territory under protection. These zones and forest frontiers hold significant potential for conservation in Laos, serving as a crucial instrument for ensuring connectivity between National Protected Areas (NPAs) and safeguarding more localized ecological assets, such as sub-catchments, small forest patches, and community forests. However, these areas face substantial challenges and pressure. Provincial and district authorities tasked with protecting these zones lack the capacity, resources, and enforcement power, resulting in the absence of a sustainable management system and enforceable protection. These areas are often perceived as free and open spaces where uncontrolled and unsustainable agricultural practices take place.
Situated near Sayaboury town, Nam Tien Provincial Protected Area spans 6,000 hectares and has been home to the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) since 2010. While the Nam Tien area may not inherently possess high biodiversity value, it provides a secure habitat for 10% of the country's captive elephant population through the ECC. Despite sporadic forest clearing for shifting cultivation by nearby communities, new encroachments are occurring for larger-scale agriculture, such as bananas and watermelon. Additional disturbances, like Karaoke boats on the lake, are increasing, underscoring the vulnerability of conservation measures when faced with more lucrative businesses. Maintaining a healthy captive elephant population in Laos is considered crucial, both by the Government of Laos and the conservation community, as it represents a vital resource to supplement the remaining wild elephant population in the adjacent National Park. The ECC's rewilding program relies on the availability of elephants of breeding age capable of forming strong social bonds before their eventual release to replenish wild populations throughout the country. The ECC also operates an eco-tourism venture, holding a unique status due to its private concession in the heart of the Nam Tien provincial protected area. Although the ECC has played a key role in protecting a portion of this area, the financial benefits alone cannot prevent further encroachment of cash crop agriculture or fully offer alternative development pathways. This small landscape serves as a microscopic representation of a global issue prevalent across the tropics: the synergy and coexistence between land, people, and wildlife.