Give wildlife right of way
Record numbers of visitors at Khao Yai National Park, especially during the New Year holidays, would not be a reason for concern if tourists had not increased the hazards for wild animals. The most pressing danger comes with personal car use which has resulted in crashes which have killed and injured many wild animals over the past decade.
It is time authorities imposed harsher measures against this kind of man-made danger. The Department of Wildlife, National Parks and Plant Conservation should consider adopting tougher regulations on personal car use at this popular holiday destination and other national parks.
With over one million visitors a year, Khao Yai National Park, a large forest complex covering areas in Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachin Buri, Nakhon Nayok and Saraburi, has increasingly become a less habitable sanctuary for wild animals. From October 2015 to September 2016, 471,514 vehicles entered the park. In December 2015 alone, about 70,000 cars were driven through it.
Many wild animals have died or been injured because of the unruly behaviour of drivers. Last month alone saw a rare leopard cat killed and a wild elephant injured on park roads. Deaths and injuries of wild animals as a result of reckless driving by visitors have also been seen at many other national parks.
Even though park authorities have come up with stricter regulations to minimise the road dangers for animals, they are clearly not enough. Recently imposed rules include a maximum speed limit of 60kph, no entry at night between 6pm and 6am and, most recently, a ban on big-bike motorcycles.
Khao Yai National Park has become a more dangerous place for wildlife because hardened and paved roads were built there decades ago to link the park's key attractions to main streets, cutting across the natural trails of wild animals. Holidaymakers from cities, especially Bangkok, have flocked to the park but rarely left their personal cars at home.
While car use offers a convenient way for tourists to enjoy nature, it jeopardises the safety and well-being of animals. Existing rules and punishments have proven unable to curb the misbehaviour of some visitors, especially speeding and reckless drivers.
Punitive measures are too light to combat these kinds of behaviour. Drivers who hit animals on the roads are subject to a maximum fine of just 1,000 baht and/or imprisonment of up to one month. Most of the time they end up being fined 500 baht.
The department needs to make unpopular decisions to better regulate car use in the national parks it oversees. The authorities could start with introducing new rules to limit visitors and reduce the number of camping areas allowed in each park. They should also impose heavier penalties against people who break the rules and injure or kill animals.
More importantly, personal car use should be banned at popular destinations such as Khao Yai. This might be seen as an extreme measure, but it would curb noise from passing cars that usually panics animals, thereby reducing the road dangers to them. Once personal cars are no longer allowed, the parks can provide transportation services with licenced vehicles overseen by park rangers. With officials in attendance this could help prevent confrontations between humans and animals.
These measures will upset holidaymakers. But they are necessary. Wildlife at Khao Yai National Park in the coming years will only suffer from more man-made developments.
For example, a project to expand the road that links Khao Yai and Thap Lan national parks is scheduled to be completed later this year. The road expansion will include the construction of man-made animal trails, a feature which many still wonder will be practical for wild species.
With development pressures and the high numbers of visitors to Khao Yai and other national parks, we need to return the right of way to wild animals.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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