Laughs a land ruled by the mekong one of the world’s mightiest rivers the Mekong is fed by tributaries hidden deep in pathless canyons it is a whim of history but centuries have passed with hardly human foot trespassing in this wilderness and so today Laos can still boast a wealth of natural wonders unchartered rivers unclimbed mountains untouched forests inhabited.
By mysterious creatures Laos is a last hideout for some of Asia’s big wild animals home to dozens of indigenous tribes and cultures and keeper of a Buddhist tradition long lost elsewhere so in the very.
Heart of crowded and buzzing Indochina there is a wonderland still on the brink of its first discovery in the northern province of who are farm the zoologist is on her way into the jungle Arlene Johnson is a specialist in tigers being tongue is the vantage point of her expedition a village on the fringe of the nam hatful louis protected area Arlene and her team on a mission for the Wildlife Conservation Society or.
WCS and the Laos national forestry department when we started doing our fieldwork in 2003 the goal of the project was to understand better the distribution and abundance of tiger and their prey in the Namib kalui protected area 5000 Matic cameras will be installed in the mountain forests they will record anything that moves only during the dry season can one travel here without.
Sinking into deep mud a camera team will accompany the group and try to install a video camera along with the stills cameras the first camera trap will be positioned at a walking.
Distance of two days Laos has no access to the sea yet it is a land of.
Water dominated by the mighty Mekong beginning at a point where three countries Laos Thailand and China meet the Mekong runs south it forms a long border line.
With Thailand and leaves Laos in the South thundering over the Cong far Peng waterfalls into neighboring Cambodia it is a spectacular and noisy exit mean and calm mother of all waters is what the people of Laos call their.
River in the South the Mekong is as wide as a lake this.
Waterscape is called sea fandom the four thousand islands when the rainy season starts most disappear overnight over a distance of one thousand nine hundred kilometers the Mekong carries Goods and people irrigates rice paddies and fills.
The nets of fishermen this river produces more fish than the entire Mediterranean Sea an annual two million tonnes the Mekong boasts one of the world’s highest.
Degrees of biodiversity scientists know many of its species only from hearsay these murky floods are home to a legendary monster the giant catfish.
Weighing 300 kilos it is the world’s biggest freshwater fish only a few people have ever seen a giant catfish the fishermen in the northwest near the Thai border have hunted the giant for generations but even at the height of the catfish season or we can find is one Thai fishing boat Laos has recently prohibited the catching of catfish because the species is threatened.
By extinction for hours the Thais sail up and down the river I need to return home with empty Nets what has happened to the giant catfish.
There is an answer it is found on the Thai side of the river like the Mekong the northern mountains are also full of secrets the ark our people live along the Chinese border many of their villages.
Can only be reached by foot journeys often lasting several days through.
Thick mountain forests hunters like sueño are familiar with plants and animals no white man has ever seen he still uses the traditional Chinese crossbow firearms are prohibited the hunters set up for the woods to try their luck unlike many lotions the akka are not Buddhist for them a hunt is also a visit to the realms.
Of spirits where rocks and plants are animated beings each acha village has a spirit swing it’s the gate to a mystic.
Cosmos it’s built in honor of the dead and must never be touched the akka came here from southern China in contrast to the land of their origin their villages in Laos still have a traditional look no tin roofs no electricity no plumbing the women’s decorative headgear is a.
Highly visible symbol of the akka culture the akka women are expert in needlework and weaving they dye the fabric for their clothes with indigo even though the men are hunters and trappers the akka are mainly farmers they clear the steep forests lips with fire and they plant dry rice and vegetables the hunters have long disappeared into the jungle when.
The women set out on their way to the market selling a few vegetables is the ACA’s only source of income the.
Main market in the north is right on the Chinese border in Mohan Singh the market punctuates the region’s cultural complexity of nationalities.
The south is populated by Thai and Khmer the north by peoples from Tibet Burma and China Laos boasts more than 60 officially recognized ethnic minorities the north is dangerous ground the Golden Triangle is closed clandestine poppy farming drug trafficking and smuggling of goods of all kinds are challenges to the government even the wilderness.
Is beset by serious problems poaching and illegal trade with exotic animals are a threat to the tiger population and other rare jungle species this is why the government supports the work of Arlene.
Johnson and her team wilderness research in Laos is a tedious adventure we have a cursory list of animals that are existing.
Here and which is probably fairly accurate with you know a few other species that can be added to that list but as far as the ecology and the distribution of the majority of these.
Species I would say we’re just in the early stages of understanding that none of the researchers have ever seen a tiger eye to eye yet they have little doubt that the big cats are nearby in an abandoned batch of banana trees they set up camp for the night hot water with forest herbs and rice is the usual dinner the majority of the expedition team are L’Arche ins the assistants and porters are excellent jungle Scouts who can read animal tracks at night a temperature sinks to five degrees.
Centigrade the light declared Porter’s shiver while playing cards the area to be investigated is set out in squares the camera positions are carefully defined but the.
Loess protected area spreads across three and a half thousand square kilometers looking for Tigers in this rugged mountain scape seems hopeless shielded by mountain ranges and forgotten by the world Laos has preserved wild landscapes hardly found elsewhere.
In Southeast Asia traditional culture too has miraculously survived the region’s violent.
History in spite of its ethnic diversity Laos has been a predominantly Buddhist country for more than seven centuries on the Mekong there is a city that seems to consist of nothing but temples Luang Prabang once capital and royal residence is now a.
World cultural heritage site and the country’s religious center colonial architecture the only remaining heritage of sixty years of French rule inhabited living and crumbling architecture is everywhere the orange worn by the Buddhist monks sets the visual tone of this city every day just before sunrise the monks come out to receive arms rice vegetables and sweets.
Monks are prohibited from worldly labor they take their arms without any expression of gratitude and return to their temples even the oldest temples are wide open to the life of the city they serve as meeting places passages and playgrounds watersnakes so called Nagas guard the roofs everywhere there are animal images symbolic protectors and sources of strength in Laos one animal is worshipped above all others the elephant.
In the era of its glory Laos was called LAN Xang realm of a million elephants a three-headed elephant was the Royal.
Coat of arms today the number of elephants in Laos.
Is nowhere close to a million nowadays even working elephants are only found in remote provinces they are still used in terrain unfit for tractors and.
Lorries there is a lotion speciality in dealing with elephants whilst in the rest of Asia elephant guides use a sharp metal hook that inflicts pain lotions direct their animals only with a gentle voice nothing is more endearing than a well-trained working elephant but their wild cousins are very different in contrast to their African relatives Asian elephants generally do not live on open grassland but in dense jungle.
We never even noticed what the local Scout saw immediately a young elephant male.
In the immediate vicinity the elephant is only 20 meters away males will not tolerate strangers in we’re near our scouts opted for a quick retreat and it’s soon obvious that this was the right.
Decision there are a few places here that offer a wider view this forest clearing is a meeting place for elephants who are attracted by a natural salt deposit the animals dig up the ground.
To get vital mineral supplies the number of wild elephants in Laos is 500 by some estimates others believe that there are 800 in any case Laos has the most important national elephant population in Indochina how could hundreds of elephants each one as big as a bus remain undiscovered and uncounted for decades one reason.
Is that systemic field research has only just begun another that forest elephants in Asia are more difficult to observe than elephants on an.
African savannah if the akka hunters had ever wanted to know the precise number of elephants in these forests they would certainly have been more successful in counting them than Western researchers but to them statistics are a typically Western whim while we with our heavy packs stumble clumsily through the underbrush.
The our car seemed to glide along the jungle paths with little noise and effort under the canopy of these giant trees Outsiders easily lose their bearings you hear bird calls but cannot tell from where you think you walk in a straight line.
But find that you move in circles we need supermarkets the our car need the forest here they find food plants medical herbs firewood building materials honey and animal protein the other hunters have moved on but so Enyo has picked up a rustle in the foliage alert.
Yet calmly the akka hunter uses his crossbow the bird is not dead just injured almost as fast as his arrow.
So when yo has caught up with his prey within seconds it is packed away.
It’s a delicacy a pheasant the acha are allowed to hunt pheasants but not protected animals such as the tiger one would readily vouch for the.
Innocence of these gentle people yet Tigers are caught and killed in Laos but the poachers are shrouded in as much secrecy as the Tigers themselves several hundred kilometres from the Ark our hunting grounds our expedition has reached the first camera position first of all the WCS scientists want some basic questions answered how many Tigers are left in this area what is their prey how large other individual.
Territories where do Tigers and humans clash the service team is being briefed our camera is to operate for six months video cassettes and batteries need to be changed on a weekly basis for the WCS project the young.
Men have to position 50 stills cameras spread out over 100 square kilometers of wilderness in comparison working hour to video cameras is easy both.
The video and the stills cameras are triggered by an infrared beam in contrast to the video cameras the stills cameras need no surface they operate in their.
Isolated positions in the forest for over a month in recent years these camera traps have enabled scientists to capture some spectacular shots in 1999 one of the world’s rarest animals was camera trapped in Laos asawa this species is most closely related to wild buffalos only a few years previously the Sala had been discovered.
In Vietnam as a new species.
Thanks to a pair of horns a biologist found in a hunter’s house in a remote village in Laos any sort of animal can end up in a frying pan.
Although trade in wild animals is now prohibited no one seems to worry about the law this is why markets.
Are obvious hotspots of field research just like Arlene WCS biologists Rob Timmons was ambling through a marketplace in central laos in 1996 when he noticed an animal for sale which he could not identify a striped rabbit with short ears a species so far unknown to science the list of newly discovered species also includes two kinds of rare small deer and rats with a furry tail and a yellow Pig they were all found between fruit and vegetables or in village huts smoked or dried Arlene and ven even pets seem to have no luck but then they.
Find next to rats and mushrooms a giant gliding squirrel an uncommon species that they do not definitely East Asian porcupine big animals such as porcupines have become rare hunting pressure is on the rise and forests near densely populated areas have been effectively depleted oh man yuck they were illegal trade in exotic animals is another problem for a rare turtle species collectors will pay almost any price yeah it’s definitely a softshell turtle but by now Arlene’s team has some experience with rare enemies one of their cameras captured an Austin civet an extremely rare species one night.
A hog Badger released the trigger a little-known species in Laos it’s the first photograph in this country taken in the wild in spite of new discoveries what the scientists find in the markets is whirring it’s a confusing image.
On the one hand animals are recklessly hunted on the other researchers discover ever new wonders Arlene and her Lucian colleagues are convinced that in spite of mounting problems Laos is Indo China’s last natural paradise.
So much terror in committer land and wildlife that is little known to science the limestone labyrinth of the poo Hindu National Park the animate mountains on the Vietnamese border the primeval forests rugged canyons and uncharted rivers are this country’s most precious treasures for many adventurers and scientists when they think of Laos this is the place of their dreams however their enthusiasm for this wilderness has nothing to do with dreaming they simply know that many species could not survive anywhere else hornbills for example need an abundance.
Of wild fruit and ancient trees to nest him this is why they are only found in primeval forests the same is true for the tiger the elephant and the Asian.
Black bear these bizarre limestone formations are an ideal barrier against invaders of all kinds they’ve draped in lush greenery the rocks.
Here on needle sharp and brittle there is no root over the mountains but there is one right through them the nam hin boun river in central laos has.
Undermined the porous rock and created a cave seven kilometers in length better.
Still the cave is actually a tunnel suitable for boats this natural tunnel is up.
To 100 meters wide in places its ceiling rises high.
To form underground cathedrals one can only guess at what is hidden up there in the dark for brief moments.
Stout tights and snowy white sandbanks glisten stranded jungle Giants shimmer in the glue during the monsoon the water level almost reaches the ceiling in the dry season it sinks to a low of just a few centimeters in this labyrinth of crags and jungle natural-born climbers like the white-handed Gibbons have it made clumsy humans scrambling along between rocks and underbrush need.
An entire day for a distance a given can do within minutes Gibbon pairs stay together for life juveniles can be recognized.
By their light coat a juvenile.
Will accompany its parents for two years and is tenderly cared for this small family alone needs a territory of 20 hectares white-handed Gibbons defend on a diet exclusively a fruit only large forests can cater to such needs white-handed Gibbons totally avoid ground contact only swinging from branch to branch at breathtaking speed if necessary apart from burns they are the fastest moving species in the canopy climbing like this seems like defying gravity but it takes training the aspiring junior has not quite reached his father’s elegance mid-april Luang Prabang is beginning to celebrate the Buddhist new.
Year new year is a time of cleansing symbolically as well as physically family home or temple all across the country people are now busy cleaning washing the statues with sacred water is a good deed and a sign of renewal the spirits of the old year are driven out new spirits will come with the approaching monsoon days before the actual holiday begins all the people are out and about profane feasts take turns with traditional customs and religious.
Rituals to avoid evil surprises at rebirth it is necessary to lay up good deeds selling songbirds in tiny cages.
Is now big business people buy the birds to release them as a climax of the festivities tiny fish served the same purpose a markets are busy and loud but there is a place of sacred silence down by the.
Miko two hours by boat upstream are the cave temples of PACU many legends are told about this shrine which is visited by pilgrims from across Asia over decades believers.
Have left thousands of Buddha figures of bronze wood or clay time and these figurines have turned pakku into a religious site of world renown April is not only the month of new year it is also the giant catfish season we are now on the Thai side of the Mekong but there is no trace of catfish remembering the biologists in Laos we decide to.
And this method proves successful unfortunately our first catfish is dead it is a rather small specimen but it’s definitely the species we’ve been looking for this fish comes from a fish farm catfish are being bred from the eggs of.
Animals caught in the wild there is no way this fish could have been caught in the Mekong juvenile fish larvae or eggs have never been found along the 4000 kilometers of the rivers.
Length the only encounters have been with adult animals in the Delta and right here before the monsoon yet there is not a single fishing boat out there why if anyone can provide an answer.
It is Krang sac his life the fisherman has been after catfish the biggest one he ever caught he says weighed 280 kilos Sal Chania barnacle make up wonder not come on be a month our each year his crew used to catch two or three giant catfish in a.
Good year up to seven mallamma Hardin at the corner in the early days well they were very heavy we sold the fish to the lotions for a small fortune today people hardly go fishing anymore it’s also prohibited by the government whenever we catch a catfish we can only keep it long enough to weigh it and then we have to release it who goes fishing in order to release a fish all right when.
He was younger there was up to sixty fishing boats on the mekong and at the beginning of the season both Thai and Lao Shi Hoos to celebrate a big feast Pangasius kiyose the world’s biggest freshwater fish is threatened by extinction as recently as the 80s some 60 giant catfish we netted each year now there is a total of two or three the reason is the.