Collaborating to Conserve Large Mammals in South East Asia

Collaborating to Conserve Large Mammals in South East Asia

Project background

Species of focus: 



Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary

Summary description: 

Rather than introducing a pre-planned scheme of collaborative management between Thung Yai government officials and Karen villagers (whose relationship is one of distrust), this project initiated a learning process directed toward incremental improvement of the status of wildlife - in particularly mammals that are poached for commercial trade (tiger and baur) and subsistence use (porcupines and civets).

Collaborative workshops were organized with the intention of: (1) combining the knowledge of local woodsmen into an information base about the conservation status of mammals; (2) developing a shared understanding of conservation problems; and (3) identifying opportunities for collaborative action. These events became known locally as wildlife workshops. Workshops consisted of three parts: wildlife status assessment, impact assessment, and conservation planning. Two workshops were conducted, each requiring 2 days. Five villages participated overall. For each workshop, 5–10 elders and hunters from two to three villages were invited as chief participants. Village headmen also participated, and young people were encouraged to come as observers. Two to three rangers from nearby ranger stations and officers from Thung Yai headquarters attended.

The final part of each workshop was a collaborative planning exercise, without being proclaimed as such. In this case, Karen participants and Thung Yai officials agreed that:

  1. They share similar concerns about the declining status of wildlife, wish to face the problem, and recognize the need to work together;
  2. Commercial poaching has had the biggest impact historically and is the most pressing current threat;
  3. Subsistence hunting is unsustainable for some species (muntjacs, sambar), especially where it overlaps with areas of heavier mortality caused by commercial
  4. Villages should form conservation committees (of elders, active woodsmen, and young people) to participate in future activities and communicate with outsiders;
  5. Conservation problems must be addressed on both local and regional scales (inside Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary, managers and local Karen agree that joint
    patrols be initiated and targeted at poaching hotspots identified in the workshops);
  6. Villagers should designate “wildlife recovery zones” as a form of spatial harvest management
  7. A joint monitoring system to track the distribution and relative abundance of 11 focal species should be established for locally threatened species

These ideas were subsequently written into Thung Yai’s first collaborative management plan. In the 3 years since wildlife workshops were held, each component has been implemented. Most villages now have officially recognised conservation committees. Two joint monitoring teams have been trained and equipped. They have conducted 12 sign surveys along 250 km of trails, generating information on the status of large carnivores and ungulates, the distribution of poaching activity, and recolonization of one area by elephants. One wildlife recovery zone (30 km2) has been established and another surveyed. The zone has received increased publicity, management attention, and patrols, and there are fewer reports of either subsistence or commercial hunting in the area. Communication has increased, mostly through quarterly village meetings that protected-area officials now frequently attend.

Land management type: 

State managed protected area

Product(s) in trade: 

Types of poachers: 

Individuals from outside
Project implementation

Is the project implemented by an external party? 


Implementing organisation: 

WWF Thailand.

Name of funding organisation(s): 


Community organisation(s) involved: 

Thung Yai has been inhabited by an indigenous minority known as the Karen for over 200 years. Twelve villages are located within the Sanctuary, accessible by foot and requiring 2 hours to 3 days. Some 30 Karen villagers were involved in the wildlife workshops learning process.

Was the project established specifically to engage communities in combatting IWT? 


Year the IWT project or component started 


Project status is currently: 

No longer operating
Community engagement

Approach taken to community engagement and its rationale: 

Community members benefit from resource harvesting (e.g., small scale hunting; grazing; thatching grass) as conservation incentive


Not specified.


Not specified.

The community engagement project is: 

Stand alone initiative

Do community guards carry firearms? 


Do community guards conduct joint patrols with formal guards? 


Are community guards unarmed, without armed backup? 


Do community guards have rights of arrest? 


Do community guards have specialist training 


Are community guards covered by military law in the case of someone being killed or wounded? 


The community has traditional authority to sanction poachers from within their community? 


What “rules of engagement” for working with communities does the case study address? 

Advance and recognize and respect the rights of local people to manage and benefit from wildlife
Build the capacity of local people to manage and benefit from wildlife
Strengthen the voice of local people in conservation/IWT debate and dialogue
Include local people in wildlife monitoring and enforcement networks
Build capacity of local people to tackle IWT
Recognise and strengthen the legitimacy of local communities as critical partners

What has been the impact on poaching/IWT? 

Don’t know/Case study/project has not assessed impact on poaching

What has been the impact on wildlife populations? 

Not known/not documented
Lessons learned about engaging communities

What worked about the community engagement approach and why? 

Ingredients for the success of this leaning process included:

  • Treating local people as potential allies and asking for their help to recover wildlife. The Karen villagers are accustomed to being accused of causing problems, but not being invited to define or solve them. When this imbalance shifted through the learning process, many came forward to participate in an opportunity they believed they deserved all along.
  • Many Karen villagers resent (what they consider) the intrusion of outside poachers, and are concerned about localised effects of their own subsistence hunting, but feel powerless to address these issues. At the same time, Thung Yai staff are sometimes discouraged because the magnitude of problems seem to overwhelm their capacity. Prior to the wildlife workshops, WWF Thailand sponsored four Karen-ranger expeditions to break the inertia resulting from the situation and develop a history of joint fact-finding. Confidence to come together more formally in workshops may have grown through these activities. The strongest demonstrations of success have been the outcomes of wildlife workshops themselves. The initiation of joint patrolling, for example, has inspired two additional villages to request assistance to start similar activities. Also, concern has grown among previously indifferent or antagonistic village headmen, who now take time to discuss species population changes even though it is not their first priority.
  • The involvement, persistence, and 6-year time commitment of a third party (in this case, a nongovernmental organization) was instrumental.
  • Not relying on financial incentives for motivation. Years after this project has ended, and with zero financial support local groups still occasionally patrol the sanctuary borders and continue to maintain local recovery and non-hunting zones.

Further comments or additional information about community engagement 

Wildlife workshops are likely to be most successful where local people have a long history in the area and a strong stake in the shape of their relationship with protected-area authorities. The approach may be least successful where local people have recently migrated to an area because they are likely to have only a vague understanding of historical trends.

Case study information is up to date as of: 

Bibliographic information

Main source(s) of information: 

Published documentation


Collaborating to Conserve Large Mammals in South East Asia


Steinmetz R, Wanlop C, Seuaturien N

Year of publication: 


Journal/Book/Series details: 

Conservation Biology
Case study entry information

This case study entry compiled by: 

Francesca Booker

Date of case study entry: 

Friday, 19 August, 2016