Thailand rainforest

Thailand Rainforest facts

It is a popular misconception that the type of jungle in Thailand is actually rainforest. Thailand rubber treesThis is not based on the current reality of the situation. In the past, the entire country was covered in rich, biologically-diverse, thick vegetation and towering trees. Now however, all but one small patch of lowland jungle in the southern end of Krabi Province known as Khao Nor Chuchi has been clear-cut and replaced with a non-indigenous tree from the other side of the world. That same tree is being planted on hills and as far up mountains as possible. It is Hevea brasiliensis, a deciduous tree that originally came from Brazil.

Khao Sok National Park is stunning and the biodiversity of this park is outstanding. However, it too is surrounded by farmland and most of that is rubber plantations.

"Biological diversity is currently at its lowest level in 65 million years. " Alan Rabinowitz

Hevea brasiliensis is a Euphorb, a member of the Euphorbiaceae family. Another common plant in this same family is often confused for cactus: Euphorbia antiquorum or Diamond Club. The strong latex sap from this plant is used to remove warts and other skin ailments. The sap from the Hevea brasiliensis is also toxic and it is so foreign to the indigenous Thai fauna that nothing lives in a rubber plantation.

One species of the orb spiders seems to be able to deal with the toxic properties of these alien trees, but that’s it… no birds, no squirrels, nothing.

The production of natural latex rubber centered in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. These three countries account for 80% of the world’s total rubber production. The rest comes from Sri Lanka, India and Africa.

Why am I harping on about rubber trees? The clear-cutting of the natural jungle of Thailand has been replaced by this deciduous tree and with this, the climate has changed. What was once a rich jungle with so much vegetation as to produce sufficient amount of transpiration (the evaporation of water from the above-ground parts of plants) to cause large amounts of rain has now become a different type of jungle.

Rainforests require rain to hold that title... at least in the eyes of most scientists.

Dr. Phil Round, author of many books on the flora and fauna of the Kingdom of Thailand says in his book Thailand’s Vanishing Flora and Fauna that, “The forests of the south are evergreen, but not rainforest in the truest sense of the word.” He goes on to say that because of the fact that there is a definite dry season, the jungle is different from all true rainforests.

Khao Sok National Park and the surrounding conservation areas such as Klong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary, Klong Nakha, Kaeng Krung Wildlife Sanctuary and Sri Phang Nga National Park make up an area of nearly 4,000 square kilometers of jungle. Within this is Cheow Lan Reservoir, a 165 square kilometer area of flooded jungle. This reservoir is used for both electricity and as a source of water. The amount of jungle that was flooded to make this unnatural reservoir however was nothing sort of disastrous! Old growth jungle was flooded and countless numbers of animals perished.

Still, what’s now left is a wonderland of natural rock formations, abundant and diverse wildlife and thick jungle.Khao Sok rainforest image

cheow lan lake Khao Sok National ParkThe area of this natural/man-made ecosystem is sufficient to produce a micro climate. However, contrary to the desires of so many tour operators, it doesn’t qualify as a rainforest. Sorry, but there is a definite dry season and the entire area is surrounded by deciduous rubber trees creating a tropical evergreen forest or tropical monsoonal forest.

The jungle does still have a lot in common with true rainforests, such as layering, emergent trees, etc, but it lacks the key ingredient - rain.

Oil Palm Plantations

Another vehicle for the mass destruction of the native jungle is oil palms. Oil palms originated in central Africa. They are another serious threat to the biodiversity of the region, but this monoculture at least harbors more wildlife.

Over 40 species of birds have been recorded in oil palm plantations, still, what was there before was home to many more species.

With rubber plantations and oil palm plantations, the customary means of clearing the jungle was a combination of felling and dragging off the bigger trees for timber and burning the rest… thus compounding the affect on the atmosphere and global warming.

It is not the goal here to discredit other tour operators or to make it sound like the national parks and conservation areas in Thailand aren't inspiring... they are very inspiring and potentially life-changing!

Nonetheless, there is a lot of hype in the tourism industry and a lot of misrepresentation (much of which is probably not intentional). The scientific facts however, speak for themself.

The entire world is under threat from resource mismanagement, waste, apathy and corruption. Unfortunately, Thailand is no different. You can make a difference by visiting the best of what's left and that most certainly includes Khao Sok National Park.

Support environmentally responsible travel. Be a part of the cure, not the problem... please.

"We are no longer able to think of ourselves as a species tossed about by a larger forces--now we
are those larger forces." Bill McKibben

Recommended reading:

Thailand's Vanishing Flora and Fauna
By Mark Graham and Philip Round
ISBN: 974-89105-6-3

Chasing the Dragon's Tail: The Struggle to save Thailand's Wild Cats
By Alan Rabinowitz
ISBN: 1-55963-980-6

The End of Nature
By Bill McKibben
ISBN: 0-8129-7608-8