Khao Pra Theaw Non-Hunting Area, Phuket

Khao Pra Theaw Non-Hunting Area

The Khao Phra Theaw (KPT) area is relatively small (2,333 ha) and completely surrounded by villages, roads and plantations. Therefore, not all the species of peninsular fauna are represented and those that remain in this forest are not easily observed. Their natural behaviour is to hide in the most dense vegetation and their learned fear of man make them even more elusive.

Walkers on the forest trails may well hear the sounds of animals running for cover, but have little chance of seeing them. This may be frustrating for those interested in wildlife, but it is only by this wariness that the animals, up till now fiercely hunted, have managed to survive. Hopefully, in the future, they will have no need to fear the approach of man. But, in any case, in the undergrowth, the view is obstructed by vegetal walls in every direction and on all the various levels superimposed or mixed in luxurious but concealing draperies of tight foliage.

(1) (2)

The Endangered Palm Species of KPT (1), KPT forest is completely surrounding by villages, roads and plantations (2).

Khao Phra Theaw: An islet in the island of Phuket

Phuket is, at the same time, an island, a province in Southern Thailand, a district, a city, an administrative center; a name more and more well known, a region in the process of becoming a showcase for the Kingdom. From the economic and touristic point of view, Phuket is destined to improve, increasingly year by year, her shining example.

In her role as regional and national showcase, the island should conserve one of the essential and most threatened landscapes of the tropical world: that of the large dense forest. Along with the developed countryside, in places green and well organised but in others totally devastated by strip mining, it became necessary to saveguard the only complete forest still massive enough to evoke the primeval landscape, the remaining vestige of an ancestral heritage in its full bloom.

As the island expands logistically, economically and touristically, the Reserve of KPT will increase in importance as a wildlife harbour, as a beneficial watershed, as a place of worthwhile leisure, as well as a center of scientific research… as a testament to ecological wisdom joining human development and natural conservation. It was thus that KPT, a mountain range still covered with its original vegetation in the northeast district of Thalang, was chosen and promoted to an official Reserve by decree in 8th July 1980. But, since April 1977, the Provincial Services had demarcated a protected area encompassing all the wooded ranges. Certain advisors from the Forest Administration had in mind the distinctive palm of Phuket which spreads its elegant foliage and which as been designated with the botanical name “kerriodoxa elegans”

Fortunately, Phuket does not represent the forest condition of Southern Thailand that is in fact far more wooded with large areas covered by stands of tall, dense and shady vegetation. Is it well known that only the dense forest can withstand the climatic extremes of the Tropics. Long observation shows that a certain percentage of dense forested cover, especially in hilly areas, guaranties a good distribution of water, both enough for dry season as well as providing drainage in rainy season. It also prevents the effects of erosion to the lower soil which is the most suitable location for agriculture and settlements. In addition, it ensures the continued flourishing of these activities and installations, above all if they occupy well-chosen land. Under these climatic conditions, the settlements in hilly regions have the best opportunity of prospering to the extent that they preserve the original vegetation of mountains, steep slopes, natural watersheds, in short the zone which, at the same time, are unsuitable for exploitation and which compose the most vulnerable part of the landscape.

In the entire island, this insufficient forest cover may in part appear to be corrected by the replanting of plantation trees at least on the lower slopes and as far as the steep ones, This insufficiency can only serve to validate the creation of the Reserve of KPT which was not just suitable but in fact has become indispensable, above all considering present development, ever increasing but, at the same time, thoughtfully balanced.

Situation and Description

Thanks to its integrity, which permits a biological balance to remain, KPT offers an excellent example of Malaysian equatorial flora which is found up to the South of Thailand. However, this kind of flora is here approaching its outer limits, to the extent that it can only survive if not disturbed by man, It could advance up the Peninsula only in its initial leap and can only be replaced by the more hearty tropical continental flora.

On the ochre-brown soil, emanating from granite decomposition, receiving abundant and sufficiently distributed rainfalls, an evergreen rainforest has developed. Here, the vegetation remains green all year long. If indeed the trees change their leaves, this happens in only a few days and at very different times, depending on the species, which are numerous and varied. In fact, this type of forest is in perpetual biological activity. One can see, during the shedding of the leaves, spring and fall on the same branch. The species which follow seasonal cycles do not obey the same rhythms, but rather each at their own time.

The wet tendency is displayed by the presence of species that are not found in tropical climates with a long dry season and also by the abundance of certain plants of the undergrowth, usually only encountered in low sheltered sites, but here present, indeed teeming with life, everywhere along the range, Notably, the richness of palms, both in quantity and variety, it is one of the most remarkable features of KPT, which in addition, offers Kerriodoxa elegans its only known refuge. Among the dominant trees, one can find some of stunning dimension in the prime of their development. Since so many of the species, and among the most characteristic, belong to the Southern flora (here equatorial) of the Peninsula, this forest formation is truly representative, for Thailand in general, of a particular regional entity. Furthermore, apart from its botanic composition, the very structure presents itself in various levels (strata) of trees, each composing a distinct biological unity. Thus, for every level there is a corresponding category of trees which includes, evidently but in small number, the immature off-springs of the upper levels.

Topography, Soil and Climate

The reserve stretches along a range, in a north-south direction, with its tops slightly emerging. As the only exception, the crest of KPT stands alone on the south, well separated from the others which reach 400 to 450 m, just over the watershed line. But this relatively low range is flanked by abrupt slopes, without any hilly transition from the lowland that is near the sea level. In the interior, an intricate drainage system has deeply embedded itself, Streams and rivulets appear as torrents; they spring forth in a series of stepped waterfalls descending in narrow gullies.

In the stream beds, the granite rocks can be seen as level with the ground, or piled one upon the other, or in flat paving stones that obstruct the water, forcing the flow sharply over or, especially in dry season, to infiltrate the soil and then reappear down the waterfall. Some slopes are dotted with small rocks, but the greater part of the range is made up of deeply decomposed ochre soils that cover all the hills, becoming brown humus near the surface. Crumbly and ever soft at the foot of the slopes, the superficial soil appears to be compact on some crest, especially in the northern part; but the favorable distribution of rainfall avoids the crusting effect that to often occurs in climates with severe dry seasons. However, this advantage is closely links with the perpetuation of the protecting forest cover.

At this latitude (about 8°), the temperatures remain remarkably constant and the dry season is indeed less severe than in the North and Central Regions of Thailand. So, the climate resemble subequatorial one: wet tropical with a short dry season. The mean annual temperature is 28°; the average of the maximums is 31° 4, with 33° 2 as the hottest month; the average of the minimum is 23° 8, with 22° 8 as the least month. The constant and high minimums are in fact those of the low latitude, but the precipitation puts the region in a transitional one. The year is divided into 8 humid months, from April to November; 2 dry months, January and February; the remaining 2 months are variable, but generally December can be considered as sub-humid and March as sub-dry (N. Humid month: the amount of rainfall in mm exceeds or is equal to the average temperature in degree. Sub-humid: the amount of rainfall is equal to 3 to 4 times the average temperature. Sub-dry month: the amount of rainfall is equal to 2 to 3 times the average temperature. Dry month: The amounts of rainfall do not reach 2 times the average temperature. Here, min. lower than min.). Thus, Khao Phra Theaw is indeed more humid (and less hot), as the masses vegetation attraction and retains the convection rains which do not benefit the surrounding countryside

Wildlife Conservation Development and Extension Center

The Wildlife Conservation Development and Extension Centre (WCDEC). Situated at the non-hunting area’s south west side at the foot of the Ton Sai waterfall, it provides education on KPT. This involves giving lectures to students and other visitors on the one hand and the design and distribution of brochures on the other hand. The WCDEC was set up as soon as KPT was designated as a non-hunting area. Although the centre is related to the non-hunting area, it is generally regarded as separate from it. The Wildlife Conservation Development and Extension Centre and non-hunting areas are distinct parts of the same organization level, namely the Wildlife Conservation Division, the Thai National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation Department.

Apart from Ton Sai waterfall, the centre’s most important attraction is its spacious and well equipped visitor centre. Groups of 20-50 students from the Phuket region weekly visit the centre. Most of them are from primary and secondary schools; occasionally a group of university students visits Ton Sai. At the visitor centre the students are given lectures on forest conservation in general and on KPT in particular. Next, they are either taken for a short walk in the nature trail close to the centre, or they cross the forest to Bang Pae substation in a couple of hours. The centre further disposes over 6 basic guest rooms which can be booked all through the year, while three small restaurants provide visitors with meals and refreshments.

Ecosystem of Khao Phra Theaw Forest

Tropical Rain Forest

The major part of Khao Phra Theaw is a tropical rain forest, constituting primarily of evergreen trees. The rain forest exhibits a high diversity of plants and animals. The most commonly occurring plants in Khao Phra Theaw are Dipterocarpus spp., Hopea odorate Roxb., Intsis palembanica Miq

Other small trees and shrubs, including vines, are also found in the lower level of this rain forest. Such as Palms, Rattans, Bamboos. Climbers, Orchids, Ferns and Mosses, which sometimes can be found on the tree branches.
This forest is the origin of many rivers in the area, which all life forms rely on. Rainforests, like this one, are the most diverse ecosystem type on earth because of the enormous number of life forms present. There is growing concern about the loss of this diversity as a result of rain forest destruction.
Many organisms live their entire life cycles in the forest, and we would like to help you open your mind to the great value and beauty of the rain forest.

Bang Pae Waterfall

Bang Pae is a small-size, perennial waterfall with a small stream. The most beautiful part of this waterfall is the cliff, where the water runs through, with a height of 16.7m cascading down to a stream for the distance of about 524 m. There are some pools where people can go swimming along the stream. Many wild animals such as wild boars, porcupines, mouse deer, crabs, birds and many insects usually come out to feed in the shady and fertile area of the waterfall. A little dam was built downstream for irrigation and agricultural purpose. This shows that all life is able to benefit from this waterfall.

Birds

From the walkway, you may see various kinds of birds feeding around, on the trees or on the ground. Two types of birds, native and migratory birds, are found in this area. The native ones can be found year round building their nests to lay eggs. These types of birds include Asian Fairy-bluebird, Green Leafbird, Red-Billed Malkoha, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and Brahminy Kite. The migratory birds, such as Forest wagtail, Blue-Winged Pitta, Siberian Blue Robin, do not nest here and are only found from October to March.

The observation of birds in their natural habitat is becoming a popular hobby, and has great appeal to many bird-watchers, but birds are also ecologically important in spreading plant seeds that enhance the diversity in the ecosystem.

Climbers

In the highly diverse evergreen forest everybody will notice the climbers, the great vines which have become the symbol of the tropical rainforest. These climbers behave like big ropes hanging on other trees to lift them up until they reach the zone of higher light intensity. Only a small amount of light can penetrate through the dense tree canopy, therefore intense competition for light is seen in this environment. Tree growth requires substantial energy investment, which some plants avoid by depending on the stems of other plants for support. Perhaps the most obvious adaptation of this sort is seen in plants that climb from the ground to the uppermost canopy along other plants.

Bamboo

Everybody might think that these tall, jointed stem plants are just typical trees, but they are actually giant, fast growing grasses that have woody stems. If you carefully determine each aerial stem of the bamboo, they look like a gigantic type of grass. These woody, hollow, aerial stems, called culms, grow in branching clusters from a thick underground stem (rhizome), and can attain an age of 50-60 years. The young culms (shoots) arise directly from the stem.

Bamboo is used for a great variety if purposes. Underground stems (rhizomes) are a good food source for many wild animals such as wild boars, porcupines, and deer. Most bamboos flower and produce seeds only once in their lifetime and birds and squirrels usually eat these seeds. For many reasons, this wonderful giant grass is of great help to the ecosystem.
Ferns

Ferns have been with us for more than 400 million years, before any other plant on earth. Ferns (or “Goud”, as they are called by local people) are varied in the size and shape of their leaves (fronds) and stem (rhizome). Ferns grow in many different habitats around the world. They are easily seen in the mountainous areas of northern and southern Thailand. The majority of ferns inhabit warm, damp areas, although certain species grow on dry ground, or rocky areas.

In a tropical rain forest like Khao Phra Theaw ferns are found on the damp, shady soil, boulders, or walkways. Some, such as Selaginella sp., Drynaria quercifolia (L) J., Asplenium nidus L., Platycerium grow on the tree branches.

Crab : Phricotelphusa limula

If you carefully look in the little stream or puddles while you are on the walking through the forest, you will see a tiny reddish creature with two little claws, one a little bit bigger than the other. Its body is about 1-2 centimeters wide with long legs, which enable it to move quickly. This animal is a crab, with the scientific name Phricotelphusa limula

The Phricotelphusa crab lives underneath the stones in the shallow part of a fast-running stream. Crabs only crawl to either their left or right side and have very sensitive eyes that make them quickly crawl to their stone-shelter after being disturbed. Like many other crustaceans, crabs are often omnivorous and act as scavengers, helping to clean up the ecosystem.
Squirrels

This type of mammal lives mainly in the trees although there are some ground Squirrels. Squirrels usually feed alone during the daytime, and only in the breeding season will couples (with or without their young) be found.

Squirrels are opportunistic feeders. Their diet varies depending on the season and what is available. They eat fruits, leaves or even insects. There are various kinds of Squirrels but ones that are easily seen in the walkway of Khao Phra Theaw are Malayan Black Giant Squirrels, the Red-Bellied Squirrels and the Grey-Bellied Squirrels (Black-Tip Tail Squirrel).
The Malayan Black Giant Squirrels are the largest squirrel you will see. They have a black head and yellowish orange hair on their cheeks, neck and chin. The hair on their backs is black in colour. As the name suggests the Red-Bellied Squirrels have red or brown hair on their bellies. The rest of their body and tail hair is brownish gray or brown and they have one big black band on their back. Greenish brown and black striped bushy tails are the characteristics of the Grey-Bellied Squirrel.

Squirrels play an important role in the food chain of the ecosystem because they help distribute plant seeds.

Palm Lang Kaw (kerriodoxa elegans)

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
lists it as the world’s most endangered palm species.

History
On the eleventh of March 1929 Dr A.F.G. Kerr, an Irish botanist, came to Khao Phra Theaw and collected some specimens of a palm found near the river. Dr Kerr was famous for identifying plants in Thailand between the years of 1902 and 1932. He could not identify its name and species so he took the specimens back to Kew gardens in London, England. The area of forest (Khao Phra Theaw) this palm was found in was made a national wildlife park and forest reserve in 1977. It was later named a wildlife conservation, development and extension centre. Dr Tem Smitinand, botanist for the Royal forest department who were responsible for the forest and Mr Jaran Buunep, the chief of the Khao Chong herbarium in Trang province passed on the information about this palm to Dr John Dransfield a specialist in palms. They invited Dr Dransfield to come and collect samples of this palm. He then found that it was a new genus of palm and printed it in the Principes journal volume 27 1983. He named the species Kerriodoxa after Dr Kerr.
Kerriodoxa is monotypic genus Kerriodoxa elegans Dransfield. In Thai it is called Palm Lang Khao, Tang Lang Khao or Palm Jao Muang Talang. It is an endemic species to Thailand that is very rare and deforestation means it is now endangered.


Information from

Mr. Awat Nitikul, Chief of the Khao Phra Theaw Non-hunting Area
(National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department)
Khao Phra Theaw Wildlife Park and Forest Reserve, Jean Boulbet and Nophadol Briksavan