The KKFC lies in the Tenasserim Range on the Thailand-Myanmar boundary, prompting it to be a promising transboundary conservation site. Credit: DNP/ Wisoot Supong

Kaeng Krachan inscribed as new World Heritage Site

The World Heritage Committee (WHC) has inscribed Thailand’s controversial Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex as a World Heritage site in consensus with the amended draft decision, which sees an overturn of the draft decision proposed by its advisory body; from a deferral of the nomination to “inscription” of the proposed site

On the 11th day (July 26) of the extended 44th session being held online from China’s Fuzhou until July 31, the WHC has adopted the draft decision on Thailand’s nomination of Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex “as amended”, which sees the forest complex having been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

“If there are no other comments, I now declare the draft decision 44 COM 8 B.7 adopted as amended,” declared WHC Chair, Tian Xuejun, while hammering on the table to suggest that the debate on the proposal was over and concluded. It took more than two hours for the committee members to discuss this proposal.

Thailand’s Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa expressed his deep appreciation and thanked the committee, saying the inscription is not just another World Heritage site inscription, but it’s reflected the long commitment and devotion of those concerned who have devoted 16 years of their lives to show the world that Thai people shall preserve the site for the mankind for generations to come.

Mr. Varawut delivers a brief speech on an inscription of the forest complex.

“The inscription is not the end of our work. On a contrary, it marks the beginning of the lifetime work to sustain, preserve, restore, and ensure the richness of the biodiversity of the site,” said Mr. Varawut, adding the country has noted and accommodated all concerns and suggestions despite repeated criticism, apparently referring to the human rights issues that the site has long embattled with.

The site has won the WHC’s consensus for its Outstanding Universal Value that meets the criterion X, which requires an inscribed site to “contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation”.

I The richness of biodiversity in Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex. Credit: DNP/ Paul Thomson

Embattled Kaeng Krachan

The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex (KKFC) consists of the country’s largest national park of  Kaeng Krachan as the core area, Kui Buri National Park southward, Mae Nam Phachi Wildlife Sanctuary and Chaloem Phrakiat Thai Prachan National Park northward.

It has been the country’s hope for a third listed natural World Heritage site, after Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries and Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, which were inscribed in 1991 and 2005 respectively.

The site was first nominated for the status in 2014, and the proposal was first tabled for the WHC’s consideration in 2015 in the 39th Session. However, the forest complex was not immediately accepted as a new World Heritage site but had been referred for three times in 2015, 2016, and 2019 due to human rights issues with communities inside Kaen Krachan and boundary issues with Myanmar. (Read: Thailand to push for inscription of Kaeng Krachan as World Heritage despite deferral recommendation)

According to the WHC’s advisory body, IUCN, it had recommended deferring the nomination of the site citing the maximum time used for the procedure, while the development of a new nomination was proposed with full participation of local communities and human rights bodies to address the existing human rights concerns.

The negotiation between park officials and the Karen villagers in Pong Luek-Bangkloi village in the middle of Kaeng Krachan during the latest conflict early this year (File photo).

Its draft decision, as presented at the meeting for debates, has been amended, with almost all of the text deleted and replaced by the new text.

Under the amended draft decision, which is extended from five to nine articles, the WHO would have examined related documents prepared by the IUCN while recalling the previous decisions. It would then inscribe the site on the World Heritage List while taking note of its Outstanding Universal Value as described in the brief synthesis attached.

The Committee would note that the decision to inscribe the property is made on the understanding that the state party has addressed the issues contained in the previous decision 43 COM 8B.5, thus fulfilling the requirements under the Operational Guidelines. It would request the state party to continue working on some few issues raised, including the boundary issues with Myanmar, ensuring of the site’s integrity, protection, and management, as well as consultations with local communities and their active engagement in the management of the site.

The Committee would note with appreciation on the commitment and continued efforts by the state party in working with local communities and authorities in safeguarding the site.

It would encourage the state party to work with Myanmar on possible transboundary conservation and management and extension of the site. It would also encourage it to strengthen dialogues with IUCN for expert reviews, and last but not least, it would request the state party to report the progress on actions required by this decision to the committee by December 1, 2022.

The WHC went through the amended draft decision article by article in the session, with some opposition against the wording, especially the change from the deferral of the nomination to the inscription of the proposed site. This was particularly expressed by Norway, which stood firm that all human rights issues concerning the nomination must be resolved first. It eventually expressed dissociation to the WHC’s decision on this point.

Most of the committee members, however, threw support to the amended drafted decision. Some of them cited reasons that the proposal has already spent much time for nomination of the site, which is ecologically valued. Human rights issues, they pointed, could still not be resolved by further delays of the nomination, and the issues should be separated and handled by the UN human rights council.

A mature Siamese crocodile, a rare species, found in Kaeng Krachan. Credit: DNP/ WCS Thailand

Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex (The description by WHC/Unesco)

The site is located along the Thailand side of the Tenasserim mountain range, part of a north-south granite and limestone mountain ridge running down the Malay Peninsula. Located at the crossroads between the Himalayan, Indochina, and Sumatran faunal and floral realms, the property is home to rich biodiversity.

It is dominated by semi-evergreen/dry evergreen and moist evergreen forest with some mixed deciduous forest, montane forest, and deciduous dipterocarp forest. A number of endemic and globally endangered plant species have been reported in the property, which overlaps with two Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and is noted for its rich diversity of birdlife, including eight globally threatened species.

The property is home to the critically endangered Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis), the endangered Asiatic Wild Dog (Cuon alpinus), Banteng (Bos javanicus), Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), Yellow/Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata), and the endangered Asian Giant Tortoise (Manouria emys), as well as several other vulnerable species of birds and mammals.

Remarkably, it is also home to eight cat species: the endangered tiger (Panthera tigris) and Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), near-threatened Leopard (Panthera pardus) and Asian Golden Cat (Catopuma temminckii), the vulnerable Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosi) and Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata), as well as Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) and Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis).