Strengthening management of protected areas


Protected areas are the cornerstone of conservation strategies in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Well-managed protected area networks are essential if countries are to achieve sustainable natural resource management, support resource-dependent livelihoods, tourism, and honor their commitments under international conventions, in particular the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The species that benefit include critically endangered vultures, ibises, crocodiles, turtles and forest trees, together with endangered and vulnerable species such as elephants, wild cattle, primates, forest birds and a large diversity of less threatened species. 

Protected areas across the region face similar threats: unsustainable harvests by local communities and migrant groups, and increasing pressure from large-scale agro-industry and commercial extraction. In 2016, national annual deforestation rates were close to 2.23% in Cambodia, 1.95 % in Lao PDR and 0.72% in Myanmar.



Above: During law enforcement training in Bolikhamxay, Lao PDR, rangers learn how to apprehend poachers and illegal loggers.

  • As national government budget allocations for protected area management are often low, developing and piloting decision-support tools such as SMART are critical to an adaptive and efficient strategic approach needed to provide the maximum protection against biodiversity and habitat loss.
  • Protected area managers need timely and easy access to quality data and technical support for making evidence-based decisions to address current and emerging threats.

Strengthening protected areas

The WCS Mekong Drivers Partnership collaborates with communities, private sector and government authorities to support the establishment and management of protected areas in high biodiversity landscapes in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar. Toward this, WCS is supporting development of robust institutional structures, management and law enforcement capacity, sources of long-term financing and the ability of local people to share in the benefits of a protected area.

Under the Mekong Drivers Partnership, WCS is strengthening the management support to 14 existing protected areas as well as supporting strategic conservation planning including community management in Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), whilst working with national governments to support protected area network development.





Above: Hundreds of vehicles, handsaws and snares rust at the entrance to Cambodia’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary – confiscated from illegal loggers awaiting trial.


Left: Zaw Min Naing has been working as a forester with Myanmar’s forest department for the last 19 years and has been part of an intensive capacity-building program, using the SMART system to improve the effectiveness of protection and monitoring of the forest and its wildlife.

"Before the training, there were only two staff in our department who could use a GPS. Now that we have received training, not only senior leaders but also all the other staff can use GPS and maps capably. As a senior ranger, I have also been taught how to collect accurate data, and get exact information over the long term about changes in the forest. For example, when I see wild elephants, I am able to record that accurately, and monitor changes in elephants. We can also collect specific information about illegal activities, such as hunting or poaching, and help to reduce the threats. We are therefore more effective in patrolling than before. We used to only cover two miles a day, just guessing where we were going. Now by using SMART, we can do effective and targeted patrolling of five to six miles a day.''

SMART law enforcement


In the battle against illegal wildlife poaching, WCS and a consortium of other conservation organisations have developed an open source Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool – SMART. This innovative software allows forest rangers to collect data on biodiversity, threats and illegal activities during their patrols. They use this information to increase the effectiveness of their patrols to protect wildlife and habitats.

The WCS Drivers Partnership has supported the roll-out of SMART law enforcement across all landscapes in Cambodia and Lao PDR, and provides relevant training to government officers and rangers in Myanmar. WCS has trained over 200 patrol staff, equipping them with the latest technology to detect and prevent illegal activities.

To ensure robust and adaptive protected area management, ranger patrols need to be cost-effective and strategic. In Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Lao PDR, protected area managers have learnt to adjust patrolling strategies in line with threats that emerge from the SMART patrols. This means applying a mix of available strategies – choosing from setting up permanent ranger substations in strategic locations, forest mobile teams, a response team and involving communities in patrols. 

Download the NEPL factsheet on law enforcement lessons learned. 

Monthly reporting and planning meetings are data driven, allowing managers to find the most suitable strategy to address the particular threat, whilst maximizing communication among the law enforcement personnel and with local communities, and ensuring good supervision of the ranger teams. As a result, ranger patrols have significantly increased their coverage and effectiveness. The figures below show a strong correlation at Lao PDR’s Phou Sithone Endangered Species Conservation Area (PST ESCA) between increased patrol coverage from 2012 to 2017 and a 50% reduction in snare lines in the total protection zone of PST ESCA.

SMART Patrols PST Track 2012

SMART Patrols PST Track 2012

SMART Patrols PST Track 2013

SMART Patrols PST Track 2013





Left: U Chit Hlaing Win, the park warden from Taninthayi Nature Reserve in Myanmar, expresses his thanks to WCS for its support on local TV.

"Because of the support from WCS, park staff have the ability to identify local species and conduct biological surveys; patrols have become more strategic through the introduction of SMART and training on GIS and remote sensing; and now Taninthayi Nature Reserve's operational capability has been enhanced through WCS’s facilitation of our next operational plan."

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