Over 82% of the landscape is still forested, harbouring exceptional biodiversity of globally important populations, including tigers and Asian elephants. Embedded within the DT is the Western Forest Complex (WEFCOM) in Thailand, which is Southeast Asia’s most extensive protected area network at over 18,000 km². The DT also includes other protected areas in Thailand and proposed protected areas in Myanmar, which together cover 36% of the landscape.
Beyond the ecosystem services it provides to major cities outside its boundaries, the DT serves as a vital source of livelihood for local communities and is central to the identity and spiritual values of indigenous communities living within the landscape, namely, the Akha, Hmong, Lu Mien, Karen, Lisu and Lahu ethnic groups.
One of these is the Southern Corridor, referred to as the ‘Dawei Road’, that will connect Bangkok to the deep-water port in Dawei via Kanchanburi. While still in Phase 1 of implementation, the project represents a significant risk to biodiversity, ecological integrity and landscape connectivity.
Another significant infrastructure development is the East West Economic Corridor, which will traverse mainland Southeast Asia, including linking Phitsanulok in Thailand with Mawlamyine in Myanmar. These two projects will see the DT transected in two critical locations in Thailand and Myanmar: the Southern Corridor from Bangkok to Dawei and the East West Corridor north of WEFCOM. On the Myanmar side, there is also a road cutting off connectivity north of the proposed Lenya National Park to the proposed Tanintharyi National Park.
Other threats to the DT include economic pressures for conversion of forestland to agriculture (palm oil, rubber, maize, cabbage) and other (mining, timber production) purposes. While the landscape surrounding protected areas on the Thai side has largely been converted from original forest cover, the process of encroachment, concession allocation and land use classification change is growing in urgency in the largely intact landscape on the Myanmar side.
In order to protect the DTL and its biodiversity, WWF is working with partners to build upon the common interest of the various governing stakeholders to:
- Conduct wildlife population surveys, focusing on tigers and elephants
- Implement community forest management and forest land restoration approaches to maintain and enhance landscape connectivity
- Develop innovative approaches to address increasing human-elephant conflict
- Monitor deforestation using drone technology
- Support participatory and inclusive Conservation Area Management Planning to promote sustainable land use as well as the establishment of community recognised core protected areas in Myanmar
- Support indigenous communities to map and register their land as ICCAs (Indigenous Community Conserved Areas) to secure land tenure and promote community based conservation of high biodiversity areas (Myanmar) and no-hunting zones (Thailand)