Empowering a labour transition during enclosure and securitisation of Luang Prabang’s natural heritage

Students: MA On Ki Rachel; LEE Chi Hang Haven

Instructors: Ashley Scott Kelly; Xiaoxuan Lu
Course: Studio Laos: Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong
Programme: Bachelor of Arts in Landscape Studies
Date: June 2020


Bears are critical to the ecosystem. Despite their ability in fertilizing forest, dispersing seeds and as predators to maintain wildlife populations in balance, bears are also a good indicator for natural heritage: if the land is sustainable for bear population, then it is also healthy enough to support local livelihoods. In 2003, Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre (TKSBRC) in Luang Prabang was constructed by Free The Bears in collaboration with the Laos Department of Forestry, expanded to Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary (LPWLS) in 2017 and housing over 55 bears in 2019. Further expansion then becomes critical upon the insufficient habitat and unsustainable financial system for nursing bears, which was proposed as the Luang Prabang Protected Forest (LPPF). Yet, the overstated bear bile usage give rise to illegal wildlife trade and bear farming in Laos for its enticing economic benefits, endangering the bear community as well as the ecosystem. The encroachment of the planned Luang Prabang SEZ development 10km away from the protected forest hence leads to labour competition for LPPF. The forthcoming tourism influx as well drives our project in increasing ecotourism capacity in the protected forest. This project aims to conserve LPPF for bear releasing, develop a nature sensitive and local equitable ecotourism plan and build resistance towards illegal wildlife trade with LPPF as a pioneering project for alternative conservation model in Laos. From reforesting the protected forest and buffer zone, ecosystem services establishment, rewilding bears within the wildlife sanctuary, to optimizing securitization of protect forest and ecotourism development, we see the urge to bring bears back to the nature with developing a comprehensive conservation and management system in protected forest against wildlife poaching. We also wish for the participation of local communities from 5 nearby villages and to be a part of the project, in which we see the importance of maintaining local livelihood and cultural stability within indigenous communities. We dare to empower locals and hope to allow elasticity in ecosystem services of protected forest, provide job opportunities with economic advantages as well as ownership to resources. Numerous strategies would be carried out within the protected forest, including a selected small-scale planting scheme in the controlled use zone for forest boundary protection, large-scale planting in degraded areas to provide sufficient food and shelter for bears, ecosystem services in the protected forest through forest guiding and ranging for tackling illegal wildlife poaching. We as well anticipate in building capacity on knowledge of wildlife trade for villagers and tourists, and to withstand illegal poaching from the casus belli. Ultimately, we contemplate in challenging the traditional forest protection model with excessive policing, and remodel LPPF as an alternative model for locals’ livelihood on natural heritage.

Keywords: Luang Prabang; labour transition; bear rehabilitation; reforestation; forest securitization

Enlarge Photo: Proximity to illegal wildlife trade market and bear bile farm in Luang Prabang posed threat to the establishment of protected forest, yet with the foreseeable influx of tourists and migrant workers from China after the completion of China Laos railway, LPPF as well faces labour competition and requires elastic strategies. By MA On Ki Rachel, LEE Chi Hang Haven.Enlarge Photo: The parallelism of strategy allows NGOs and local communities working together and regenerate the forest for bear rehabilitation with gaining job opportunities near to their local livelihoods. It as well provides a negotiation system base for the best of interest for the bear release and improvement of local livelihood. By MA On Ki Rachel, LEE Chi Hang Haven.Enlarge Photo: The complex topography combined with rapid deforestation in Luang Prabang reduced the habitability for bears. A series of planting schemes in selected pilot sites for various purposes were then developed in preparation for bear rewilding. By MA On Ki Rachel, LEE Chi Hang Haven.Enlarge Photo: Optimization of patrolling systems through the aid of AI technology would allow predicting illegal poaching activities in the forest and generate risk maps for better protection of the habitat and bear livelihood. Bear activities are tracked to monitor their livelihood as a trial release program and cases in the protected forest. By MA On Ki Rachel, LEE Chi Hang Haven.Enlarge Photo: The series of diagrams indicate how the tension between the SEZ versus community involvement programs and how labour participation affects the rate of reforestation and patrolling. By MA On Ki Rachel, LEE Chi Hang Haven.Enlarge Photo: The elasticity of strategies implemented allow it to be adjusted according to the level of participation from villagers. With Scenario one, having active participation in reforestation and patrolling to scenario five, villagers act as labour in SEZ. By MA On Ki Rachel, LEE Chi Hang Haven.