Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (170°20' to 170°48' N and 1050°46 to 1060°24' E) is a World Heritage Site in Vietnam.
The Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (PNKBNP) is located in central Vietnam, about 500 kilometers (km) south of the capital, Hanoi, within the Quang Binh Province at the narrowest part of Vietnam. The western boundary of the Park forms part of the Lao-Vietnamese border, which is only 42km from the sea at his point. The Park is found within the geographical co-ordinates 170 20' to 170 48' N and 1050 46 to 1060 24' E in the Bo Trach and Minh Hoa Districts.
Date and history of establishment
In 1550 Duong Van An was the first author to write about Phong Nha Cave. The site is depicted as one of the great landscapes of Vietnam on one of the dynastic urns at Hue. After 1920 the area was exploited for tourism and was ranked second in Indochina for this activity. The Phong Nha Nature Reserve (5,000 hectares (ha)) was declared on 9 August 1986 and was extended to 41,132 ha by 1991, with an approved management plan. On 19 May 2000 this was changed to establish the Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park.
The Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has a core zone of 85,754 ha and a buffer zone of 188,865 ha.
The whole area of the National Park, including land, forest resources, landscape, caves and historical relics is owned by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
From 100 to 650 meters (m) above sea level (m.a.s.l.).
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (PNKBNP) has a complicated geological structure, with an earth crust development history from the Ordovician period (464 Ma). This has produced three types of topography and geomorphology. One type is the non-karst landformss, which consist of low, round-top mountains with planation surfaces and abrasion-accumulation terraces along the valleys of the Son and Chay rivers and at the margins of the central limestone massif. The other major type is karst landforms, which are characterised by old tropical karst mainly from the Mezozoic, but two-thirds of the nominated site consists of karst from the Cenozoic. Extensive transitional landforms comprise an extremely complex intercalation of limestone massifs and terrigenous terrain with a diversity of rock types. The limestone occupies an area of about 200,000 ha, with a similar adjacent area in the Laos People's Democratic Republic and its highest point is 1,290 m.a.s.l. The karst formation process has resulted in many features such as underground rivers, dry caves, terraced caves, suspended caves, dendritic caves, and intersecting caves. The active river caves are divided into the 9 caves of the Phong Nha system discharging to the Son River and the 8 caves of the Vom system, discharging to the Chay River. The Phong Nha Cave is the most famous one in the entire system, with a currently surveyed length of 44.5 km. Its entrance is the last part of an underground river that connects with the Son River and tour boats can penetrate inside to a distance of 1,500 m. Other extensive caves include the Vom cave at 15 km in length and the Hang Khe Rhy cave with a length of 18,902 m. Phong Nha-Ke Bang is the catchment area of many streams and rivers that feed the Gianh river. Flooding of the valley areas takes place from September to November, but in the dry season from February to August almost all the streams dry up. The Park is situated in the watershed of the Gianh river.
The climate is tropical, hot and humid. The annual mean temperature is 23-25°C, with a maximum of 41°C and a minimum of 6°C. The hottest months are from June to August, with a mean of 28°C, and the coldest months from December to February with a mean of 18°C. Rainfall is high, with an average of 2,000 millimeters (mm) to 2,500 mm per year, and 88% of the rainfall is from July to December. With more than 160 rainy days per year, no month is without rain. Mean annual relative humidity is 84%.
Interpretation of remote sensing data for 1995 shows 96.2% of the Park to be covered in forest, 92.2% of which is primary forest. By far the largest vegetation type is 'Tropical dense moist evergreen forest on limestone under 800 m.a.s.l.
This covers 110,476 ha and is found mainly in the north and center of the area, covering almost all of the limestone area of the Park. It contains giant, buttressed trees up to 50 m height, with woody climbers and a su-canopy layer and understorey. The most commont tree species are Hopea sp., Sumbaviopsis albicans, Garcinia fragraeoides, Burretionendron hsienmu, Chukrasia tabularis, Photinia aroboreum and Dysospyros saletti. Seedlings can only grow in holes and cracks in the limestone where soil has accumulated, so in general regeneration after disturbance is slow.
Low tropical montane evergreen forest on limestone above 800 m.a.s.l. occupies 12,600 ha, or 8.5% of the Park. It is found on rough karst towers the length of a continuous and narrow range of limestone along the Vietnam-Laos frontier. Plants grow in crevices and holes and are of small stature in the well-drained and thin soil. The dominant plant families are the Lauraceae, Fagacaeae, Theaceae and Rosaceae, with some scattered Gymnosperms such as Podocarpus imbricatus, Podocarpus neriifolius, and Nageia fleuryi.
Tropical dense moist evergreen forest on hills under 800 m.a.s.l. 'covers a total of 12,200 ha in three areas. It is characterized by mother rocks of sandstone, schist and acidic granite with a relatively moist and thick soil with surface streams. This forest type is dominated by evergreen tree species with scattered deciduous trees such as Dipterocarpus kerri, Anogeissus acuminate, Pometia pinnata and Lagerstroemia calyculata.
The preliminary list of vascular plants totals 876 species in 511 genera and 152 families. The flora is representative of the transition zone between the northern and southern floristic zones of Vietnam. It is also a centre of endemism, supporting 13 species endemic to Vietnam and one species (Hopea sp.) endemic to the site. Among the important plants, multi-species families include 24 species of Orchidaceae and 48 species of Lauraceae. The Park's flora includes 38 species in the Plant Red Data Book of Vietnam and 25 species listed in the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants.
A total of 568 vertebrate species have been recorded in PNKBNP, comprising 113 mammals, 81 reptiles and amphibians, 302 birds, and 72 fish. The fauna is typical of the limestone karst forests of the Annamite mountains. The high mammal species richness includes threatened species such as Tiger Panthera tigris, Asiatic Black Bear Selanarctos thibetanus, Asian Elephant Elephas maximus, Giant Muntjac Megamunticus vuquangensis, Asian Wild Dog Cuon alpinus, Gaus Bos gaurus, and the newly discovered Sao La Pseudoryx nghetinhensis. The site is particularly rich in primates, with ten species and subspecies forming 45% of the total number of species in Vietnam. Four of the primate taxa endemic to Indochina are represented: Semnopithecus francoisi, Pygathrix nemaeus, Hylobates leucognis and Nyctibeus coucang. The bird species include 15 species listed in Vietnam's Red Data Book and 20 species listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. These include five species of hornbills and five pheasant species, of which Edward's Pheasant Lophura edwardsi and Imperial Pheasant Lophura imperialis are critically endangered. Of the 59 recorded reptile and amphibian species, 18 are listed in Vietnam's Red Data Book and 6 are listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. The 72 fish species include 4 species endemic to the area, including Chela qaungbinhensis. A total of 259 butterfly species in 11 families have been recorded. Research on the biodiversity of the park, like the exploration of the cave systems, is continuing and new species of both flora and fauna are regularly identified.
The oldest evidence of human occupation of the area are Neolithic axe heads and similar artifacts found in some of the caves. There are some relics of Ham Hghi King, a final King of the Nguyen dynasty before the French colonial period, at the Maria Mountain in the north of the Park. Currently the Arem, Ma Coong and Ruc ethnic groups live in two villages in the core zone of Phong Nha Ke - Bang National Park. Until 1962 these indigenous people lived in the forest in houses made of bamboo and leaves or in the caves, living from forest products and hunting. They used simple tools and their clothes were made from the bark of a toxic forest tree (Antiaris toxicaria) and lianas. Since 1992 the Government of Vietnam has set up two new settlements for these 475 people, who are the two smallest ethnic groups in Vietnam. These people are familiar with a number of economically valuable species, especially precious timber such as Mun and Hue (Diospyros spp., Dalbergia rimosa), and oil-extraction from species such as Tau (Hopea hainanensis) and many medicinal plants. The Phong Nha Cave has long been a site of religious and touristic importance, with an old Cham Temple discovered in the cave and it was a site of worship in the ninth and tenth centuries. During the war with the USA the Phong Nha - Ke Bang forest and caves were a garrison and weapons store for the Vietnamese army.
Local human population
There are two villages in the core zone of the National Park. Arem, or village number 39, consists of households of the Arem and Ma Coong ethnic groups. Yen Hop village has 59 households of the Ruc ethnic group. Within the total buffer zone area of 195,400 ha. there is a total population of 52,001. Whilst 83% of these people are of the Kinh ethnic group, which is the majority group in Vietnam, the region also has representatives of two minority ethnic groups: the Van Kieu and Chut. Population growth is rapid in the region and poverty is widespread, with many people dependent upon the exploitation of forest products as part of their livelihoods.
Visitors and visitor facilities
Tourism activities were reorganized in 1990 and visitor numbers have increased each year, from 1,000 in 1993 to 5,000 in 1995, including 200 foreign tourists, and in 1997 there were 28,000 tourists, including 1,900 foreign tourists. In 1999 there were 80,500 domestic visitors and 900 international visitors. Phong Nha Cave is the principal visitor site, with a team of boatmen taking people into the cave. There is a guest house with 20 rooms near the Xuan Son ferry, where boats depart for the cave.
Tourism activities in the area are the responsibility of the Trading and Tourism Department of Quang Binh province, with 280 international standard rooms in the province and 8 vehicles with capacities of 4 to 15 seats for tourist transportation. The forest guards of Son Trach commune in Bo Trach district are placed on tourist security duty.
Scientific research and facilities
From 1990 to 2003 (and probably continuing) extensive research and surveys of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang cave system were conducted by expeditions under the leadership of Howard Limbert from the British Cave Research Association in co-operation with the Faculty for Geology and Geography of Vietnam National University. In 1991 the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute (FIPI) carried out surveys of vegetation cover, flora, fauna and socio-economic characteristics of the area, leading to the preparation of a management plan for the Phong Nha Nature Reserve. From 1991 to 1995 a survey of primate species was conducted by a group of scientists from FIPI and Xuan Mai Forestry College. From 1996 to 1997 research on the biodiversity of Phong Nha led to a symposium on biodiversity conservation along the Laos-Vietnam frontier. Further surveys of the bird and mammal fauna were conducted by a team of scientists organized by Fauna and Flora International in 1998, to assess the conservation importance and priorities of the National Park. The LINC project conducted by WWF (1999-2003) has carried out a systematic review of the biodiversity implications of a linkage with the Hin Namno Conservation area of Laos. In 1999 scientists from the Vietnam-Russia Tropical Centre also conducted zoological and botanical surveys in the Ke Bang area. A research unit has now (2003) been established as part of the new Management arrangements for the National Park.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is of high conservation value as one of the largest areas of intact forest habitat remaining in Vietnam. As part of a continuous forest block with the neighboring Him Namno Biodiversity Conservation Area in Laos it forms one of the largest areas of forest on limestone karst in Indochina. The presence of tall lowland forest, which is regionally threatened as a habitat type, in the National Park increases the area's conservation value.
The Park contains nationally significant populations of primates, with ten species and sub-species. These include the globally Vulnerable Pig-tailed Macaque, Assamese Macaque, Stump-tailed Macaque and White/Buff-cheeked Gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys and Nomascus leucogenys siki). The Park probably has the largest population of Francois Langur in Vietnam, including two different forms of the species. The area is highly significant for its population of Hatinh langur and Black Langur. It is undoubtedly the largest population of these species in the world, and probably the only population represented in a protected area. Other endangered large mammals include the Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis), Giant Muntjac (Megamuntiacus vuquangensis) and possibly the Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis). The Asiatic Black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus) and Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) are confirmed. Other smaller mammals include Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica) and the recently discovered Striped hare, called locally 'tho van' (Nesolagus timminsii). Ten bat species listed in the IUCN List of Threatened Species have been recorded.
The bird species include 15 species listed in Vietnam's Red Data Book and 20 species listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. These include five species of hornbills and five pheasant species, of which Edward's Pheasant Lophura edwardsi and Imperial Pheasant Lophura imperialis are Critically Endangered. Other birds of conservation significance are the Sooty Babbler Stachyris herberti, which is endemic to the Hin Namno - Phong Nha - Ke Bang range, the Crested Argus Rheinardia ocellata, Red-Collared Woodpecker Picus rabieri, and Wreathed and Great Hornbills (Rhyticeros undulatus, Buceros bicornis). Other endemic species include the Bar-bellied Pitta Pitta ellioti. Of the 59 recorded reptile and amphibian species, 18 are listed in Vietnam's Red Data Book and 6 are listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. The 72 fish species include 4 species endemic to the area, including Chela qaungbinhensis.
At the national level management of the Park is the responsibility of the Forest Protection Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Direct responsibility for Park management lies with the Phong Nha-Ke Bang Management Board, which is under the jurisdiction of the People's Committee of Quang Binh Province. This was created in 2000, and further strengthened in 2002 to implement the management plan of the National Park, which supersedes the one created for the Nature Reserve in 1993. One section of this board oversees forest resources and biodiversity protection. It also conducts awareness raising and educational programs with local people and authorities, and implements programs to raise the standard of living of people in the buffer zone. The conservation of cave systems, historical relict landscapes and the developments of tourist services are conducted by the Phong Nha historical relict and landscape management board.
The National Park is included in the Master Plan for economic development in Quang Binh Province for 1997-2010 and the Transboundary Biodiversity Protection Plan between Laos and Vietnam. Many meetings have been held between the neighboring provincial authorities in Vietnam and Laos to discuss co-operation in the management of the two adjacent nature reserves.
The management plan includes maps and classifications of the 10 forest types and cultivated land, a geomorphological map and land use and zoning. The Investment Plan for the National Park includes a Protection Programme, a Forest and Wildlife Regeneration Programme, an Education and Scientific Programme, a Socio-economic Programme, an Infrastructure Programme, and a Tourist and Education Programme. These Programmes cover activities such as the construction of a Park Headquarters and guard stations, equipment for staff, reforestation, research on threatened wildlife, resettlement and provision of health and education services to the Ruc and Arem peoples, and training of park staff and guides.
One of the principal threats to the wildlife of the National Park is hunting, with a high local demand for wild meat and declines of species such as Wild pig, Binturong and Primates. Whilst this threat has been reduced through the confiscation of guns the limited resources of the Reserve staff is a constraint on the control of illegal activities. Similarly, illegal timber extraction is a widespread problem, particularly for valuable species such as Go Mun wood (Diospyros spp.) and Go Hue wood (Dalbergia rimosa) and for the extraction of essential oils from trees such as Cinnamomum balansea. Exploitation of rattan is reported to have exhausted this product in several areas. Forest burning by cultivators and hunters has affected many areas near villages. Whilst bat populations are under no immediate threat, caves and roosting areas are subject to frequent disturbance by human interference.
Whilst the human population density is low inside the National Park its natural resources are under great pressure from the expanding surrounding population. Economic development projects in the buffer zone are designed to reduce the pressures on the Park. Some of the Arem and Ruc ethnic peoples who live in the limestone caves and gather forest products are being encouraged to move into settlements.
A significant threat to the integrity of the Park and its rare primate populations is a planned 24 km stretch of road that is proposed to be constructed through the core zone of the Park. This will link highway 15 to Road 565 (Highway 20) and the Ho Chi Minh National Highway further south in Quang Tri Province. The first section (km 0 to 12) follows the cliff-lined Chay River, which is the habitat of the largest known populations of Hatinh Langur and Black Langur. These two species were restricted to this area with a few additional groups in Lao PDR. The road construction has involved extensive blasting and alteration of river-flow properties. It has also destroyed the Langur Habitats along the Chay and the fate of the animals appears to be unknown.
Another potential threat to the natural properties of the Park is the rapid expansion in visitor numbers and the attendant infrastructure, which is being developed as part of the economic development of the region. This development is centered on the Phong Nha Cave, where problems of [[water [pollution]] and damage to biodiversity are occurring. Measures to address this include training for staff and tourist guides, and establishing waste collection sites. It should be noted that the use of motor boats and fuel lights inside the caves has not been allowed since the establishment of regular tours.
A regular threat to the forest in the dry season are forest fires. This is being addressed by strengthened fire control measures, education of local people practicing shifting cultivation, and a reforestation program.
The Phong Nha-Ke Bang Management Board has a total of 115 people included in its plans for the period 2000 to 2005. The board is headed by a Director and two Deputy Directors, who supervise four sections. The Forest Protection Section has nine units with nine guards in each. The Scientific Section has eight staff, comprising Zoologists, Botanists, Silviculturalists, and Socio-economists. The General Section provides administrative and logistical functions. The Culture and Tourism Management Section supports the development of services to tourists and the management of cultural relics.
Finances are principally provided from the Government budget, which has initially concentrated on establishing infrastructure such as offices and the payment of salaries. From 1993 to 1999 about 6,000,000,000 Vietnamese Dong (about US$ 420,000) was invested. In Phase 2 an investment of 21,000,000,000 Vietnamese Dong (about US$ 1,500,000) is planned. US$100,000 has been allocated for improving the standard of living of local people in the buffer zone and reducing their impact on the National Park. Quang Binh provincial sources provide about US$600,000 for tourism activities, with the sale of tickets to visitors and other tourist services providing revenues estimated at US$100,000 per year. International donors provide funds for survey and research programs, such as the LINC project with US$ 147,000.
IUCN management category
- II (National Park)
- Natural World Heritage Site: Criteria i
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