Since villagers are regularly monitoring wildlife and threats inside the Hin Nam No National Protected Area (NPA), arrests of poachers are becoming more frequent. On Monday 28 July 2014, a team of 8 villager rangers from Ban Dou village were doing their regular forest patrol when they came across a team of five Vietnamese poachers in the Kuan Nong area. This location is roughly at one day walking distance from the village and three days walking distance from the Vietnamese border.
[Figure 1: Poachers being arrested in the Hin Nam No National Protected Area, Khammouan, Lao PDR, 28 July 2014]
These illegal immigrants were found to have a lot of motorcycle brake wire cables which are a popular material to make traps as well as explosives and digging equipment. They were looking to dig for the roots of a valuable rosewood type of trees and expecting to trap monkeys and other wildlife to eat.
The village rangers arrested the poachers, tied them up with their own wire cables and led them back to the village. The poachers were handed over to the border military station in Ban Dou who kept them for three days.
[Figure 2: Motorcycle Cables used to make snare traps]
Relevant authorities were called in and a meeting was held to judge the case. The judgment committee decided on a fine to the equivalent of US$3,000, considering that the poachers were caught in the act, but had not collected any illegal timber or wildlife that could be confiscated. The poachers were warned that they were lucky to get the case resolved at the village cluster level, if the case would have been transferred to the province level, the process would have been much longer and the fine at least three times higher.
Relatives of the poachers on the Vietnamese side of the border were informed that the poachers were arrested and that they would only be released once this fine was paid. The relatives arrived within one day and paid the whole fine in cash. The poachers were then released and returned the same day to their hometown. The poachers were residents of the town of Phong Nha in neighboring Quang Binh Province.
The entire process took 4 days: one day to arrest the poachers and take them to the village: day 1 arresting poachers and taking them back to the village, day 2 to call relevant authorities, day 3 to agree on the fine and to call the relatives of the poachers and day 4: payment of fines and release of poachers.
[Figure 3: A rare red-shanked Douc Langur looking on]
The fine of $3,000 was distributed among the various law enforcement stakeholders. The ranger team who found and arrested the poachers were given a reward of $124 per arrested poacher, totaling $620 (roughly 20% of the total fine). Another $200 was spent on "sin peuan", the costs of feeding the rangers and their prisoners.
The remaining sum of $2180 was divided equally between officials of the local village cluster of Ban Dou and the District Park Authority (the District Office for Natural Resources and the Environment).
The cluster authorities divided their share of $1090 (36% of the total fine) using $200 for "sin peuan", transport costs and meals of their members joining the event, $250 for the border military and $250 for the cluster police force who took responsibility for guarding the poachers. The remaining $390 were divided between the cluster chairman, the village heads of three villages involved and the village militia (village police) in the three villages. These three groups used some of this money for "sin peuan" to support eating and drinking of their members over the four day evenly.
The park authorities received 36% of the total fines. They used around $190 for "sin peuan" their costs of transport and food to join this event. The remaining sum of $1,000 will be used to implement future conservation activities such as national conservation day celebrations and costs of future law enforcement and patrolling work.
Mr. Bouakeo Soulivong, Head of Bualapha District's Unit for Forest and Water Resources Management, congratulates the rangers and village cluster authorities with this first successful case of villagers enforcing the law inside Hin Nam No NPA. However he points out that the costs of "sin peuan" taken together amount up $590 (20% of the total fine). This is understandable as it was the first time, but in the future maybe ways could be explored to reduce the high number of stakeholders involved in the jurisdiction as well as the length of the process. He also advocated that village rangers should be equipped with proper law enforcement materials such as handcuffs to facilitate the arrest of poachers.
This is a case of co-management in action, where local communities are taking an active role in law enforcement and receive a fair share of the benefits occurred from fining poachers. The process of developing sustainable systems for co-management of Hin Nam No NPA is supported by a technical assistance project funded by the German Government.