boat trip along Nam Theun

Nakai-Nam Theun

National Protected Area

NNT location

Nakai?Nam Theun National Protected Area (NNT NPA; 17°34' 18°23' N 105°02' 105°46' E) was established by Prime Minister Decree 164 in 1993. It is located in central-eastern Laos, shares a ~155 km border with Vietnam and covers an area of ~3550 km˛. It is named after the Nam (=river) Theun that traverses the NPA in its centre in addition to four other major rivers: from north to south, the Nam Xot, the Nam Mon, the Nam Theun, The Nam Noy and the Nam On. Thirty?one villages are found within the NPA.


NNT NPA still remains largely forested with around 80% of forest cover (Robichaud et al., 2009). The area encompasses a variety of different habitats. The most common forest type encountered is dry evergreen forest found between 500 to 1800 m a.s.l. Other more localized forest types include the semi­?evergreen/pine forest, wet­?evergreen forest close to the Vietnam border over 600 m a.s.l., and upper mountain forest at the highest elevations from 1800 m a.s.l. (Timmins and Evans, 1996). The different forest types categories have been studied in more detailed and mapped over the NPA (Jarvie, 1997; NTPC, 2005). Elevation throughout the NPA ranges from ~400 m to c. 2300 m a.s.l.

The area is of particular importance notably for its geographical location within the Annamite mountain range which is characterized by a unique climatic pattern and species diversity and endemism. This mountain range is solely found in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia; with Laos probably retaining the most undisturbed part of it.

forest types NNT


Initial surveys for fish (Kottelat, 1998), reptiles and amphibians (Robichaud and Stuart, 1999), birds and mammals (Timmins and Evans, 1996) in the mid-­?1990s, have as Global biodiversity importance based on species richness, distinctiveness, endemism as well as value for communities, potential for ecotourism and threats faced (Robichaud et al., 2001). Several of the species inhabiting the NPA are classified in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN, 2012) Fish remain little-­?known in the area; reptiles and amphibians have been little studied (c.f. WCS, 1997; Robichaud and Stuart, 1999); of particular importance, confirmed to occur in mountainous areas are CR Indochinese box turtle (Cuora galbinifrons), EN keeled box turtle (Cuora mouhotii), EN yellow tortoise (Indotestudo elongat) and VU impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa). The area holds over 430 bird species (Timmins and Evans, 1996; WCS, 1997), which is the highest number found in a single protected area in all of Southeast Asia (Robichaud et al., 2001); notably, NT crested argus (Rheinardia ocellata), and five species of hornbills including VU rufous-­?necked hornbill (Aceros nipalensis), NT brown hornbill (Anorrhinus tickelli) and NT great hornbill (Buceros bicornis).

A large number of mammal species are found in the area, including several globally threatened. Some of the last discovered large mammal species in the world occur in the area. These include CR saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), EN large?antlered muntjac (Muntiacus vuquangensis), DD Annamite muntjac (M. truongsonensis), and DD Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi). Six species of wild cats have been confirmed in the area: LC leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis, NT Asian golden cat Catopuma temminckii, VU marbled cat Pardofelis marmorata, VU clouded leopard P. nebulosa, EN tiger Panthera tigris and NT leopard Panthera pardus. That tigers still remain in NNT NPA remain uncertain; they were confirmed in the 1990s from camera traps (Robichaud and Stuart, 1999), sightings (Duckworth, 1998) and hunted remains (Duckworth et al., 1999), but no clear evidence of tigers have been found ever since tracks, possibly belonging to the species were last seen in 2007 (WMPA, pers. comm.). The population has likely been extirpated by the unsustainable hunting of the species. Large cable snares (targeted at tigers) were regularly encountered in the NPA in the 1990s but only small wire snares are nowadays used by poachers. Similarly, tigers have never been recorded from camera?traps since the technique has been used (2006) in several survey blocks. This may therefore indicate the possible local extinction of tigers in NNT NPA.

With nine species of primates, the area is one of the most important for primate conservation in the country: VU pygmy slow loris (Nycticebus pymeaus), VU Bengal slow loris (N. bengalensis), LC rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), NT Assamese macaque (M. assamensis), VU pig?tailed macaque (M. leonina), VU stump-­?tailed macaque (or bear macaque) (M. arctoides), EN red­?shanked douc (Pygathrix nemaeus), EN southern white cheeked gibbon (Nomascus siki), and EN Hatinh langur (Trachypithecus [francoisi] hantinhensis).

Most likely the country's largest Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) population inhabits the lowlands eastern part of the NPA (Nakai plateau) with an estimated ~150 individuals from the last survey in 2006 (Hedges et al., 2013; Ahlering et al., 2011).

Local Communities and Livelihood

There are 31 villages within the NPA and boundaries. A variety of ethnic groups inhabit these villages and are distinguished according to their linguistics. Four ethno-­?linguistic groups can be distinguished: (1) the Vietic, which are further divided into four subgroups according to their livelihood system (Vietic I?IV); (2) the Brou, which are the most common and widespread within the NPA and share the same language (brou/bru); (3) The TaiKadai and Sek which are found mostly on the plateau, western edge of the NPA; (4) the Hmong, found in the northern part outside the boundary of the NPA, in Khamkeut district (IUCN, 1998; NT2?WMPA, 2005). The total population of the 31 enclave villages is estimated at ~6000 persons (NT2?WMPA, 2005).

Most groups have their own distinctive ethnic language; although some groups speak a language very similar to the common Lao language. However, most people from an ethno?linguistic group will be at least bilingual and speak the common national Lao language in addition to the ethnic language since school is taught in Lao language.

These ethnic groups practice a combination of different livelihood systems. There are four livelihood systems practiced in the NPA: (1) Swidden agriculture combined with important reliance on non?timber forest products (NTFPs) for food and cash income (5% of NPA population); (2) mainly swidden agriculture combined with livestock and NTFPs for food and cash income (50%); (3) swidden agriculture combined with paddy cultivation and with reliance on livestock and NTFPs (35%); (4) mainly paddy cultivation with crops, livestock and trade for cash income (10%).