Hin Nam No National Protected Area (NPA) is situated in central Lao PDR, where the Central Indochina Limestone meets the Annamite Mountain Chain. It is one of the original National Biodiversity Conservation Areas (now called NPAs) of Lao PDR established in 1993 by Decree 164 of the Prime Minister. It encompasses 82,000 ha of a large, dissected karst plateau which continues across the border into Vietnam where a large portion of the contiguous Phong Nha – Ke Bang karst has been designated as a national park and Natural World Heritage site.
The majority of Hin Nam No is limestone karst. The area is estimated to be 31% forested, with 20% of dense or mature forest.The area closest to the Lao-Vietnam border is mainly mountains. Phou Chuang is the highest point (1492 m) in the property.
The vegetation map of Hin Nam No NPA is indicated below (Hin Nam No Co-management plan, 2009):
Hin Nam No NPA has been recognized as a site of global significance for the conservation of biodiversity because its variety of habitat and forest types provided by the landscape geomorphology support a high diversity of animals and plants, including a number of globally threatened species, endemic species and karst specialist species. In total, 11 major habitat types have been identified in Hin Nam No NPA, including 7 forest habitats, 2 wetland habitats, bare rock (or sparse, stunted forest on limestone) and cave habitats. For example, lowland evergreen forest occurs in the kouans or flat valleys within the karst, hill evergreen forest occurs on the steep karst slopes, upper evergreen forest occurs at upper elevations capped with sandstone, and bare rock occurs at the top of the karst or on cliff faces. This diversity of habitats, some of them quite specialized, provides for high levels of biodiversity and endemism.
Surveys of surface habitats in Hin Nam No have recorded 452 vascular plant species, and 377 vertebrate species including 55 mammals, 184 birds, 21 reptiles, 21 amphibians and 96 fish. Of these, 37 species are of conservation interest, with 11 of these being globally threatened. Most notably, Hin Nam No contains 7 species of primate, 5 of which are globally threatened. The Red-shanked Douc Langur (Pygathrix nemaeus) and the Southern White-cheeked Gibbon (Nomascus siki) are charismatic 'flagship' species of Hin Nam No, and along with the Black Langur (Trachypithecus hatinhensis) are globally endangered. Hin Nam No harbors the largest and one of the last viable populations of these two endangered langurs in the world. Other charismatic species include 4 species of hornbill (Bucerotidae), one of which, the Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis), is globally threatened. Other globally threatened species include: Bear Macaque (Macaca arctoides), Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina), Southern Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis), Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor), Smooth-coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), Crested Argus (Rheinardia ocellata), and Asiatic Softshell Turtle (Amyda cartilaginea). The Sooty Babbler (Stachyris herberti) is a bird species endemic to the Central Indochina Limestone.
The allochthonous water of the Xe Bang Fai River has cut a 7 km underground course through the limestone karst, creating one of the largest active river cave passages in the world. The active river passage averages 76 m in width and 53 m in height, with a maximum width of 200 m and a maximum height of 120 m. In addition to the size of the cave passages, the cave is superbly decorated with speleothems, including many large and beautiful stalagmites, flowstone draperies, cave pearls and gour pools, including a 61 m long gour basin considered to be the world's largest single gour pool to have formed in a cave.
Recent initial surveys of cave habitats in Hin Nam No have recorded at least 70 fauna species, with 7 of these being new species and 5 endemics, including a cave-adapted fish species (Bangana musaei) which is endemic and globally threatened. The caves of Hin Nam No are also home to the Giant Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda maxima), the world's largest spider by leg-span.
Despite high rates of speciation and endemism in karst habitats, flora and fauna communities on limestone are relatively poorly known throughout Southeast Asia, a situation that holds true in Hin Nam No NPA. The species numbers presented above likely reflect the limited flora and fauna survey work conducted in Hin Nam No rather than its biodiversity per se. Given the integrity of the karst, the range of habitats and micro-habitats,and its biogeographic setting,additional surveys of flora and fauna covering different terrain and other taxa are nearly certain to reveal many more species records and species new to science.
Protected area as a category of forest land use is provided in the Forestry Law (2007) under Conservation Forests, Article 11 as one of three forest types in Lao PDR, which is defined as: Conservation Forest is forest classified for the utilization purposes of conserving the nature, preserving plants and animal species, forest ecosystems and other valuable sites of natural, historical, cultural, tourism, environmental, educational and scientific importance. Since the end of 2011 the management authority of protected areas in Lao PDR falls under the responsibility of the Department of Forest Resource Management of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
The protected area system of Lao PDR is one of the youngest and ecologically representative protected area systems in the world. In contrast to many other national protected area systems the Lao PDR system was designed and implemented in one process based on an analysis of the country's biogeography. This means that there is a representative coverage of key habitats within each of the biogeographic sub-units of Lao PDR. The establishment of this protected area system was the start of a long-term process of developing a management system capable of protecting, enhancing and managing valuable resources on a sustainable basis, for the benefit of the entire nation. Unlike many other countries, Laos is committed to developing a partnership approach to protected area management with the local people who live in and around the protected areas and depend on the natural resources in these areas for their daily livelihood.
This is the so-called co-management approach, in which local villagers will be a key player and assist in being the ears and eyes of the government, aims to protect biodiversity values in the Lao PDR. At the same time, it recognizes the development needs of both the nation as a whole, and the many rural villagers who are dependent on the natural resource base for their daily livelihoods. It also endorses the rights of all stakeholders to actively participate in making decisions about protected areas, but emphasizes that with these rights come responsibilities for protecting and sustainably managing the natural resources they contain. The overall goal of co-management can be defined as: jointly with guardian villages and other stakeholders, to protect, enhance and manage protected areas and their resources in a sustainable manner, for the good of local people and the Lao Nation as a whole. One of the objectives to reach the goal is to develop co-management systems with guardian villages by providing them with a stake in the resources they are being asked to help protect through the development of secure and sustainable resource use systems and benefit sharing in nature-based tourism developments.
The rugged and steep topography of the landscape, its limited accessibility, and limited areas with agricultural potential mean that Hin Nam No has been subjected to low developmental pressure, apart from the peripheral margins and river valleys. The overall integrity of the property is high and the key threats of wildlife poaching and illegal logging are being addressed by patrolling and enforcement measures, and through the current co-management approach.
A co-management plan was approved by the Lao Government in 2010 and the State is responsible for the continuing protection and effective management of the Hin Nam No NPA.A Co-Management Plan is a strategic plan (5 years) developed through a participatory planning approach in which stakeholders have common goals and objectives, and all parties share roles, responsibilities and benefits in a transparent process. The development of the Hin Nam No co-management plan was conducted through working in collaboration with many relevant sectors in Bualapha District, Khammoune Province, as well as village cluster heads and villagers living adjacent to Hin Nam No NPA. The process was facilitated by IUCN. Currently, the co-management plan is being implemented through the support of the German Government and GIZ and it is intended that the strategic co-management plan will be updated every 5 years, with the next update planned in 2015.
Recently, in order to set a clearer role and more specific responsibility for each staffs of the Hin Nam No Co-Management Management, 6 Working Units have been established by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment at the Province (PoNRE). These 6 Working Units are nominated based on Hin Nam No Co-Management Area, which is under umbrella of three main units under the Forest Management Section. The Working Units are (1) information and data base, (2) protected area management, (3) research and patrolling, (4) education and awareness, (5) ecotourism, and (6) local livelihoods improvement units.
The co-management plan hopes to address the current lack of staffing and finance by the Lao Government by emphasizing the role of local people in the protection of the area. It is understood that co-management of HNN NPA is a partnership where partners must share roles and responsibilities. The arrangement should be beneficial to all partners if not the activities won't be sustainable. After each unit of the Hin Nam No co-management unit identified the need for assistance by and delegation of activities tothe local population, co-management structures were set up on various levels. On the village level operational structures were set-up that report on participatory zonation, patrolling, biodiversity monitoring and surveys, data collection, research, tourism, livelihood and outreach activities.
The Village Co-management committee is a grass-root unit which has a mandate to protect and manage the natural resources in and just around HNN NPA in accordance with the approved co-management plan for HNN NPA. The Co-management committee is elected on village level and has no activities that are involved in politics. But they have a duty to assist the Lao government and local administrative authorities in terms of monitoring and managing the areas of HNN NPA that are allocated to them. Between May and July 2014 the different communities and the district administration have jointly drafted a mutual co-management agreement. In a provincial workshop held on 30 September 2014 the co-management agreements were approved to be ratified by the District Governor of Bualapha. Mr. Bouahpanh Phantavong, Deputy-Director General of the Department of Forest Resource Management and representative of the Ministry of Natural Resources, told the participants that he would like this co-management model to be piloted for at least 2 years with the possibility to extend it to other areas in Laos if the results are positive.
There are various ethnic groups living around the Hin Nam No NPA, such as Makong, Tri, Yoy, Phoutai, Kaleung, Vietic, and Salang/Kris (this ethnic group has only 28 families). The population is considered not very high, being approximately 7,000 people from 22 villages (2005). There are no villages situated within the protected area. However, there might be more than 10,000 people who are beneficiaries of this protected area.
Most of the villagers rely on farming, gardening, collecting non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and scrap metal collection for their livelihoods. Slash and burn cultivation, which used to be practiced in Khet Taplao and Nongma, is no longer allowed inside the protected area. Livestock raising is also an important contributor to household incomes and livestock are considered living assets for villagers that they can sell when they need ready cash.
Hin Nam No NPA has the Ho Chi Minh trail running through it, particularly along the road from Bualapha to Lang Khang, which was a target for bombing during the Indochina War. Nowadays, unexploded ordnances (UXO) still remain in the area and form obstacles for local livelihoods. Numerous villagers lose their lives every year in accidents from scrap metal collection.