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4 Protected areas and biosphere reserves in the monsoon forests.

1. The world's protected monsoon forests

1.1 General considerations

Monsoon forests are legally protected in a variety of ways. These include forest reserves, national parks, and nature reserves on the western coast of Central America, in India, in Sri Lanka and in southeast Asia, including the islands of Insulindia.

In fact, many protected areas in this geographical area include both monsoon forest and rainforest. Depending on altitude and other factors, monsoon forest replaces rainforest in space, so that some of the large protected areas in, for example, southeast Asia affect both. The same sometimes occurs in relation to biomes with longer dry periods than the monsoon forest can stand, which are dealt with in volume 3. The areas discussed in this section contain different climatic conditions and vegetation, but special reference is paid to the most typically monsoon areas. Their general problems are often comparable with those discussed in the section on protected areas of rainforest.

1.2 Protected parks and areas

In Central America, the areas of monsoon forest (although it would be better to call them dense seasonal forest) are scattered in small coastal patches from Costa Rica to Mexico. On many of these coasts, mangroves occupy the coastline and seasonal forest occurs inland.

The protected areas containing seasonal forest include: the Cosiguina Volcano (30,677 ac [12,420 ha]), that of Estero Real (98,121 ac [39,725 ha]) and that of the Indio and Maiz rivers, all three of them in Nicaragua; the Barra de Santiago National Park in El Salvador is the smallest, with an area of only 5,681 ac (2,300 ha). The Santa Rosa National Park covers 91,926 ac (37,217 ha) of forest and is the oldest protected area in the region.

In southeast Asia, the largest protected areas of monsoon forest are in Thailand, Cambodia and in Myanmar, where a large part is still relatively intact. This region contains the largest areas of monsoon forest, and the largest protected spaces are Preah Vihear in Cambodia, with 3,624,000 ac (1,467,000 ha) of monsoon forest and scattered rainforest, the 634,800 ac (257,000 ha) Huai Kha Nature Reserve in Thailand, and the 395,200 ac (160,000 ha) Alaungdaw Kathapa in Myanmar.

The Wasur National Park

The Wasur National Park (1,018,329 ac [412,279 ha]), in Irian Jaya, in the southern part of New Guinea, is in one of the driest areas in the island. The park and the nearby transfrontier reserve, the Tonda Wildlife Reserve, in Papua New Guinea, are mostly covered by monsoon forest and savannah vegetation.

Natural characteristics and values

The canopy of the evergreen dry monsoon forests is dominated by two myrtaceous (myrtle-like) genera, Tristania and Syzygium, and Maranthes (Chrysobalanaceae). These forests have three distinct strata and include, depending on local soil and drainage conditions, scattered lower open woody formations with several species of Eucalyptus and another myrtaceous genus, paperbark (Melaleuca cajuputi), a fire-resistant species that produces a valuable essential oil. Human activity, fires, and floods have all modeled the landscape, and the open woody formations form a mosaic with the large areas of savannah. Every year in the cooler dry season (from June to November), fires sweep through the dry herbaceous vegetation and the edges of the monsoon forest. These fires often spread from stubble lit by hunters, as these open grasslands are important habitats for the park's large herbivores, wallabies, and deer. In December, the wet monsoon season starts, when the area receives 75% of its entire annual rainfall, and the many resulting shallow pools attract many migratory birds that come to feed and overwinter. Hundreds of herons perform their ritual courtship displays, and pelicans, ducks, storks, egrets and ibis congregate in the extensive flooded areas.

Wasur is one of Indonesia's most recent national parks and contains an estimated 400 species of birds (65% of New Guinea's bird fauna) and at least 80 mammals (many of them nocturnal). The native mammals are all marsupials, including the wallaby (Macropus agilis), New Guinea's largest marsupial. The Rusa deer (Cervus timorensis), originally introduced as a game species, lives in the open meadows. When the rains start, the grass grows rapidly in the burned areas, providing good grazing for the wallabies and the herds of deer. They are both heavily hunted for their meat, for local consumption and for sale in the neighboring town of Merauke. Deer represents 80% of Merauke's meat supply and generates income estimated at $20,000. Until recently, almost none of these profits went back to the park's traditional residents, the 2,000 members of the Kanum, Marind, Marori, and Yei tribes who live within the park's limits.

Management and problems

The greatest threat to the long-term survival of Wasur National Park is the poverty of the human populations that depend on it. In addition to the 2,000 members of the 13 tribal peoples that live in the park, there are a further 65,000 people living near it, many of them subsistence farmers. The need to buy essential domestic items is often the incentive for logging and hunting and the sale of small plots of land. The Irian Jaya Program of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund) works with local community groups and government agencies for the park to be recognized as an area for traditional usage, allowing the indigenous peoples and former residents to cultivate and hunt on a sustainable basis. The management strategy is partly based on a ban on hunting with firearms, while permitting the indigenous population to continue hunting with bows and arrows. Each clan and family has a traditional and fixed area where they hunt, cultivate and perform their rituals. By protecting wildlife from over-exploitation by outsiders and ensuring that the benefits reach the indigenous residents, the WWF and authorities are ensuring good local support for the park. Now that poachers are prevented from entering the park, local hunters are more successful. For example in 1992 the villagers earned the equivalent of $3,750 in three months from the sale of meat obtained by traditional methods. Local communities are increasingly seeing that they may benefit from living in a conservation area and now play a more active and constructive role in its administration. Other options to mitigate rural poverty and improve the socioeconomic benefits are being explored, such as ecotourism and the sale of essential oils extracted from the bark of some of the reserve's trees.

The essential oils extracted by distillation of the paperbark (Melaleuca cajuputi) can be obtained from leaves and twigs, without needing to fell the trees, using a simple technology that involves the indigenous peoples at all levels of production from collection to sale. Their participation in the protection, administration, and controlled exploitation of the natural resources is really the best contribution to conservation. The sales of oil may significantly increase income and the self-sufficiency of the villages within the park.

The wildlife sanctuaries of Huai Kha Khaeng and Thung Yai Naresuan

The Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary (994 sq mi [2,575 sq km]) and Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary (1,418.5 sq mi [3,674 sq km) protect a forest area covering 2,402 sq mi (6,222 sq km) on Thailand's frontier with Myanmar, 218 mi (350 km) west of Bangkok. The sanctuaries are located on the two sides of the Shan-Thai Mountains, in a complex meeting of the Dawna Range and Tenasserim Range with a mosaic of habitats ranging from lowland monsoon forests to montane forest at an altitude of 5,900 ft (1,800 m). They form part of a much larger complex of national parks and other protected areas that cover a total of more than 2.5 million acres (1 million ha).

Together, these two sanctuaries form the area with the greatest biodiversity in Thailand, which has led to their being designated World Heritage Sites. They are at the junction of four different biogeographical zones and contain 2,500 plant species, with at least 11 endemic species, with floristic and faunistic elements from the west, east, and north (the Himalayas) and the south (the Sunda strait region). The area's biological richness can be attributed, in addition to its special location at the biological crossroads of southeast Asia, to the fact that the vegetation is a mosaic of evergreen and deciduous forest formations. About 50% of the area, almost the entire area below 2,625 ft (800 m), is covered by deciduous forest, while the higher and wetter slopes are colonized by evergreen or semievergreen seasonal forests. There are also open woody formations in the sanctuary, that are distinct from the deciduous dry forest but restricted to Thung Hai, and everywhere there are patches of savanna that are of great importance for the survival of the large ungulates; the thung yai (which means "big meadow") that gave its name to the sanctuary consists of several large grasslands surrounded by dry open woody formations. Evergreen gallery forests also run along the sanctuary's permanent watercourses, and these provide temporary shelter for many animals during the dry season and when fires break out.

The mixed deciduous forest, or monsoon forest, is dominated by the purple-flowered Lagerstroemia calyculata (Lythraceae), by several species of dipterocarp and by Xylia xylocarpa (Leguminosae), a hardwood species that is now scarce in the rest of Thailand. On the drier soils and on ridges a mosaic forms with dry forests of dipterocarps. In the understory, often as an integral part of succession after fire, there are communities of cycads (Cycas siamensis), palms (Phoenix acaulis), and sometimes oaks (Quercus).

The fauna, like the flora, is a mixture of northern species from the Himalayas, southern species from the Sunda region, and eastern ones from Indochina. There are at least 120 mammals, 45% of all the land mammals occurring in Thailand, and 1 in 35 of all the world's species. The sanctuaries are perhaps one of the few protected areas in Thailand large enough to support species of large mammal. These include: 10 primates (including the five species of macaque known from the region); three species of bovids, the banteng (Bos javanicus), the gaur (B. gaurus) and the water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis); the Indian elephant, (Elephas maximus); the tapir (Tapirus indicus); four of the five known species of deer from Thailand; and the mouse deer (Tragulus javanicus). The grass in the undergrowth of the monsoon forest provides grazing for the ungulates that form the food supply of a remarkable set of carnivores. The 27 species of carnivore living in the sanctuaries represent 75% of all the carnivores in Thailand and 63% of all those found in mainland southeast Asia.

The bird fauna of the sanctuaries, with more than 400 species, includes approximately one third of the birds in mainland southeast Asia and 57% of those living in Thailand's forests. Some of these species are in danger of extinction or are rare in Thailand, including some lowland forest species, such as the dusky broadbill (Corydon sumatranus) and the black-and-red broadbill (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos). Riverine species that probably no longer survive in viable populations anywhere else in Thailand--such as the green peacock (Pavo muticus), the Indian black vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), the greater pied kingfisher (Ceryle lugubris) and the hornbill (Rhyticeros subruficolis), exploit the habitats both of the monsoon forest and of the more open savannah. In the sanctuaries there are 22 species of woodpecker, almost twice as many as in any other tropical forest, and they occupy the many ecological niches created by repeated fires in deadwood or dying trees.

The sanctuaries are inhabited by 96 species of reptile from 56 genera, including four of the rarest reptiles in Asia. Limited inventories have recorded 41 species of amphibian and 107 species of freshwater fish, including one that appears to eat nothing but elephant feces. This small freshwater fish's apparent dependence on the largest land animal in Asia and the dependence of the elephant on the monsoon forest illustrate the complex nature of the food web and show the need to protect entire ecosystems in order to conserve the species that live in them.

Management and problems

In addition to its ecological value, the sanctuaries protect the basins of the Khwae Yai and Huai Kha Kaeng Rivers and their tributaries, and part of three other rivers. The Huai Kha Kaeng sanctuary is very unusual as it includes the basin's entire forested area. The park's two main rivers are unique in Thailand as their lowland stretches have not been logged, dammed, or turned into farmland. It is estimated that the sanctuary's protection of these basins, in 1987 alone, represented a value of 344 million baht (13.8 million U.S. dollars) to neighboring areas in terms of water conservation and soil protection.

Almost every year fires are set in the sanctuaries by shifting agriculturists and hunters of the tribes living in them, the Karen, and the Hmong. These fires represent a long-term threat to their biodiversity, preventing natural regeneration and causing changes in the natural vegetation. Fires have probably formed part of the ecosystem's dynamics for a long time, contributing to the shaping of the biological landscape. Now that the human population is increasing and closing in on the conservation area, the frequency and intensity of the fires threatens to destroy the area's high biodiversity. Regular fires modify the forest because they bring forward seedfall, kill shoots, slow down regeneration, and eliminate the less adapted species (the non-evergreen ones). Although large trees may appear to survive fires, many of these forest giants are "living dead" whose trunks are weakened by the fires and fall easily in later storms. Without effective control, fire, the most efficient and pitiless of all predators, will erode and simplify the habitats within the sanctuary and eventually lead to the loss of the species of animals and plants they were created to protect.

2. The UNESCO biosphere reserves in the monsoon forests

2.1 The biosphere reserves in the monsoon forest

The 15 biosphere reserves in the monsoon or seasonal forests cover an area of more than 10 million acres (4 million ha), although in many of them monsoon forest occupies only a small part of the forested area. The size of the protected areas varies greatly: Dinghu Nature Reserve in China has 2,964 ac (1,200 ha), the Maya National Park in Guatemala covers almost 3.7 million ac (1.5 million ha), although only a small part of this is seasonal forest.

2.2 The biosphere reserves in the Central American monsoon forests

Central America has two biosphere reserves covering a total of two million hectares, while the 10 reserves in Asia cover 1.2 million hectares.

The Maya Biosphere Reserve in Peten (Yucatan, Guatemala) is a good example of the Central American monsoon forest. The reserve is on the frontier with Mexico and covers a total of 3,500,000 ac (1,400,000 ha), rising from sea level to 2,000 ft (600 m) in the reserve's center. After initially being declared a national monument, it became a national park in 1955. To the north, on the other side of the frontier with Mexico, it is prolonged in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, with similar characteristics.

Interpenetrated by the monsoon forest, the park contains the largest area of tropical rainforest in Central America, with about 2,000 species of plant, some as important as breadnut Brosimum alicastrum) and Honduran mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). The park is home to 54 species of mammal, most of them globally threatened, including the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) and the jaguar (Panthera onca). The bird fauna consists of 333 species representing 63 of the 74 families of birds present in Guatemala, including the ocellated turkey (Agriocharis ocellata), which is in danger of extinction.

The reserve's main attraction, however, is the archeological remains of the former Mayan cities of Tikal and Uaxactun. The marvelous remains at Tikal, still largely unexcavated, consist of about 3,000 constructions between 2,400 and 1,100 years old, such as temples, dwellings, religious monuments decorated with inscriptions, and tombs.

The annual burning of pastures affects the breeding of some birds, especially the ocellated turkey. Habitat destruction continues to occur within the reserve, as do hunting and trapping, urban development and theft of archeological remains, but their frequency is unknown.

2.3 The biosphere reserves in the Indomalaysian monsoon forests

In the Indomalaysian region is the Komodo National Park, or Taman Nasional Komodo, on the island of Komodo, which is in the Sunda Strait and forms part of Indonesia. The park was first established in 1965 as a nature reserve, and in 1980 it was made a national park to protect the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the largest living saurian and endemic to the island of Komodo.

The reserve is in one of the driest regions of Indonesia, with relief dominated by hills rising to about 2,000 ft (600 m), and is located on the active volcanic belt running from Australia along the Sunda Platform. Monsoon forest grows at the base of the hills and in the valley bottoms. This remarkable forest is characterized by trees such as Sterculia foetida (Sterculiaceae), Oroxylum indicum (Bignoniaceae), Tamarindus indica (Leguminosae), and Zizyphus horsfeldi (Rhamnaceae), and by the almost total absence of the Australian tree flora, which is found farther to the east. The remaining 70% of the reserve consist of open herbaceous savannah. The Komodo dragon's favorite prey are introduced species such as the Rusa deer (Cervus timorensis), and feral domesticates, such as horses and water buffalo.

The island's original native fauna includes primates such as the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) and the Komodo rat (Komodomys rintjanus) as well as 72 species of bird.

The reserve's main management problem is the reduction in availability of prey for the Komodo dragon, such as the Timor deer (Cervus timorensis), due to predation and poaching. The Komodo dragon is an important tourist attraction, but it is feared that tourism will interfere with the natural development of the predator-prey relationship and is also making humans more trusting, which may have fatal consequences for them. The dragons have a powerful venom.

302 The beautiful and valuable monsoon forests have to be conserved. In addition to correct overall management of the monsoon area, it is necessary to consolidate the areas that are totally protected, such as the Lamington National Park in Queensland (Australia), shown in the photo.

[Photo: Jean-Paul Ferrero / Auscape International]

303 Young specimen of the wallaby (Macropus agilis), feeding in the Wasur National Park in Irian Jaya (New Guinea). This Indonesian kangaroo is one of the park's most notable animals.

[Photo: Gerald Cubitt / Bruce Coleman Limited]

304 The splendor of the semideciduous monsoon forest is clear in this photo of the Huai Kha Khaeng Reserve (Thailand). It shows the gentle relief covered by dipterocarp forest, the trees that dominate the reserve.

[Photo: Hartmut Jungius / WWF / Still Pictures]

305 The large bovids typical of the monsoon forest are well represented in the Huai Kha Khaeng Reserve (Thailand). The photo shows a guar (Bos gaurus laosiensis), locally known as seladang, a powerful herbivore that grazes on grass and browses on tender shoots. The reserve also contains banteng and buffalo (see photos 276 and 298).

[Photo: Konrad Wolfe / Bruce Coleman Limited]

306 There are many notable species of birds in the Huai Kha Khaeng Reserve (Thailand), including the hornbill Aceros nipalensis. The photo shows a male passing food to a female on the nest inside a hollow tree.

[Photo: Morten Strange / NHPA]

307 The star of the Komodo Reserve is the large and well-known Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the largest living saurian (lower photo). It can reach a length of 10 ft (3 m) and a weight of 331 lb (150 kg), and moves quite fast on dry land, and is also able to swim. The adults can capture large prey, such as wild boar and small deer, such as the Rusa deer (Cervus timorensis), an animal occurring naturally on several islands in the Strait (Java, Bali, Moluccas, Celebes, etc.) but introduced to Komodo (upper photo).

[Photos: Gerald Cubitt / Bruce Coleman Limited and John B. Ratcliffe / WWF / Still Pictures]

308 Biosphere reserves (1998), indicating the year it was declared a biosphere reserve and its size (in hectares), corresponding to the total area of the reserve, although it may include other types of formation, especially monsoon forest.

[Drawing: Editronica, from several sources]
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Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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