The lure of Thailand's sunken treasure

19 August 2014 | Article

Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Home to the largest range of virgin forest in southern Thailand, Khao Sok National Park was established in December 1980 and although still in its formative years as an IUCN Category II National Park, there remain remnants of a rainforest which is older and more diverse than the Amazon Rainforest in wildlife, flora and geography. 

Estimated to be in excess of 160 million years old, this spectacular region is famed for its sandstone and mudstone formations which rise to 600m above sea level. It is hard not to marvel at the iconic limestone mountain ranges that crown the landscape from the north to the south.

The area also accommodates beautiful limestone karst formations which were created during the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plate in days gone by hoisting the limestone rocks upward as Thailand shifted towards the continental divide. While many people imagine Thailand to be a land blessed with year-round sunshine, the region of Sural Thani is one to avoid for the sun-worshippers, receiving up to 3500mm of rainfall annually, making it Thailand's wettest region thanks to the monsoon winds which sweep in from the Indian and the Pacific Ocean.

Tourists flock to the area to see picturesque 165km² man-made reservoir which floods the valley beneath the limestone formations. It was created due to the establishment of the Ratchaprapha Dam which blocked off the Klong Saeng River, a move which saw an estimated 237 species relocated to new parts of the region and five villages flooded.

The reservoir took three years to fill and many species took time to adapt to their new environment due to overcrowding and a stressful transitional period. It was also a tough time for the communities who had to find new homes, schools, temples and come to terms with the fact that many of their ancestors were buried in crematoriums at the bottom of the lake.

Location

Khao Sok National Park is located in the Surat Thani Province of Thailand with an area of 739km².



Flora and Fauna

 Estimated to contain more than 5% of the world species, Khao Sok National Park is the home of many species of mammals such as the Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus), the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), the Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor), the Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina) and Lar Gibbons (Hylobates lar).

Within its virgin forest, Khao Sok National Park also holds more than 1500 species of bamboo, dating back nearly 60 million years. Climbers and emergent trees are also found within this National Park, featuring the unusual adaptations of buttress root trees, spreading out their wide roots to find nutrients. There are also lianas, a tall, vine like plant which uses other trees to climb up to the sunlight and thereby strangling the host tree in the process.

Many types of fruit trees are found in the park as well to provide a source of food for the wildlife, with fruits such as pomelo and jackfruit.

Challenges and Threats

Contrary to the scenic views and peaceful landscape Khao Sok National Park has to offer, illegal logging, plantations, tourism and poaching are threatening the habitat and species of this park.

From 1990, Thailand has lost 9% of its forest cover (or 14,000km²) and at least 30,990km² of land is lost from local species due to plantations such as rubber. The population of elephants and tigers at Khao Sok National Park are also at risk due to habitat loss and poachers who sell ivory, tiger skins and various body parts to medicinal and souvenir markets in Asia.

Although tourism brings money to the region, it has also become one of the biggest threats to the wildlife at the park. The presence of tourists and the noise created often frightens the species or drives it away, reducing their energy levels which should be using to find food.