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SAFE Ecosystems Project Launches Ecotourism Facilities in Savannakhet

Vice Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Thongphat Vongmany, Senior Government officials and other stakeholders have joined with UNDP in launching ecotourism facilities and reviewing the 2020 implementation results at the Annual Review Meeting of the GEF and UNDP supported SAFE Ecosystems Project in Xonbouly district, Savannakhet Province on Feb 11.

Despite the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, government staff from the Department of Forestry, the Provincial and District Agriculture and Forestry Offices, as well as UNDP have worked diligently to achieve project outcomes. The most significant of these has been the creation of the newest National Protected Area as the National Eld’s Deer Sanctuary which spans over 130,700 ha across the Dry Dipterocarp Forest landscape of Savannakhet Province.

The National Eld’s Deer Sanctuary is particularly important as it has been classified as an IUCN Category 4 protected area which combines species habitat protection and sustainable land use by rural communities.

The name of the NPA is attributed to the Endangered Eld’s Deer which inhabits the landscape. This initiative has resulted in the increase of Eld’s deer population from approximately 75 individuals in 2016 to approximately 170 at the end of 2020 demonstrating that community partnerships and awareness works well in conserving protected areas.

Ms Catherine Phuong, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP in the Lao PDR emphasized that as the project is entering its final year of implementation, “we are starting to see the results of years of inputs and activities supporting the conservation of the Dry Dipterocarp Forest landscape.” She added that, “more than ever as COVID-19 has shown us, it is critical to protect important habitats and their species in order to maintain biodiversity and the potential spread of further zoonotic diseases.”

The event also coincides with the unveiling of an Eld’s Deer Statue within Xonnabouly District Town and the launch of ecotourism activities within the National Eld’s Deer Sanctuary. The statue, located within the center of town, will enable members of the community to see what these animals look like and build awareness of the species. Wildlife-based ecotourism in partnership with the surrounding communities includes camping, hiking trails, homestay and handicrafts. Ecotourism has the potential to conserve natural and cultural heritage of the communities in addition to their enhanced participation in planning, development and contributing to their well-being.

“We are very pleased with the progress of the project and how it has been able to support the protection of the Eld’s Deer and other wildlife species,” said Vice Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Thongphat Vongmany.

“With the launch of ecotourism activities, we hope that this will be able to bring alternative livelihood opportunities for the local communities, as well as provide some sustainable financing for the management of the new sanctuary,” he added.

The growth of the ecotourism industry has been particularly important to the Lao PDR in generating revenue and income generation to a large number of households. Ecotourism provides opportunities to diversify local economies and support the growth of local enterprises, many of which are owned by women and youth.

Source: Lao News Agency