Nam Et-Phou Louey (pronounced “naam-et-poo-luy”) National Park (NEPL NP) is situated in Northeastern Laos, 200 km to the east of the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang and 200 km north of Phonsavanh,- famous for the UNESCO “Plain of Jars” site. With an area of over 500,000 ha it is Laos’ largest national protected area, covering three provinces.
The Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park is famous for its rich wildlife biodiversity supporting a wide range of species, many of which are endangered. NEPL NP is home to 299 species of birds, roughly fifty mammal species and 19 carnivore species, including: Clouded leopard, Asian golden cat, Marbled and Leopard cat, Dhole, two species of bear, the Northern White-Cheeked Gibbons many other threatened wildlife species.
In the same time, living inside or immediately adjacent to the National Park are 30,000 people from more than 100 villages, representing multiple ethnic groups located within some of the poorest districts of the country.
To provide alternative livelihood opportunities for local people and to safeguard the protected area’s wildlife biodiversity and ecosystems on which communities rely on, the protected area developed wildlife ecotourism program in 2010.
The ecotourism products developed in the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area (NEPL NPA) in Lao PDR have been designed to create a direct link between conservation and tourism so that the money tourists pay acts as an incentive for local people to protect endangered wildlife species and their habitat.
Most of the ecotourism community service providers (guides, boatmen, cooks etc) are from former poacher households currently working as wildlife spotters and protectors. Local people knowledge of wildlife and nature is now applied on ecotours. In order to spread the benefits of tourism fairly in the village, each participating household is allowed to have membership in only one service group.
To encourage conservation efforts, financial incentives based on encounters with wildlife (including direct sightings and indirect observation such as animal calls, footprints, and scat) by visitors on tours translates into incentive bonuses. Greater incentives are provided for sightings of rarer species. 26 villages representing more than 2’000 households receive financial incentives based on the seen wildlife by visitors on the National Park ecotours, – representing almost 30% of all villages around the protected area, mostly Khmu and Hmong ethnic minority groups.
Currently two community-based wildlife-tourism experiences are available on NEPL NP. The Nam Nern Night Safari since 2010 is the premier wildlife-tour in the country. The highlight of the tour is a boat-based night-time wildlife spotlighting led by guides that were former community hunters. Second is a network of more than 50 km trekking trails opened in 2016 offering visitors a range of multi-day activities in some of the key wildlife viewing habitats. These wildlife-tours are run and serviced by communities associated with the NEPL NP and focus on conservation and education.
Since ecotourism began in NEPL NP, the program has demonstrated significant conservation benefits through a decrease in threats and a measurable increase in wildlife sightings. For example, the average wildlife sightings on the Nam Nern Night Safari wildlife spotting tour have increased from 4 animals only in 2010 to 10 animals in average per tour in 2019.
The NEPL NP ecotours have received international recognition through several awards including the World Responsible Tourism Award in 2013 and 2014, and continuous TripAdvisor Certificates of Excellence.
Nam Nern Night Safari
The Nam Nern Night Safari is a 24-hour boat-based wildlife spotting tour. The trip highlight is night-time wildlife spotlighting, as the long-tail boats drift down the Nam Nern River looking for wild and endangered animals such as: Sambar Deer, multiple species of Civets, Spotted Linsang, Asian Golden Cat, Leopard Cat, Pythons and many more. Day time boat trip upstream the river offers opportunities for birdwatching, including Blyth’s Kingfishers, Eared Pitta and Red-collared Woodpecker.
The year 2020 marks the 10 Year Anniversary for the Nam Nern Night Safari tour.
The Wildlife Conservation Trekking Tours.
Following the success of the Night Safari, the National Park opened wildlife conservation trekking tours in 2016. These 2 to 5 days treks offer a unique opportunity to enter one of the most important wildlife habitats of the National Park and to feel as field biologist for few days while tracking and identifying proof of wildlife along the trails.
Direct wildlife observations are rare on the trekking tours compared to the Night Safari tour, but lucky visitors can spot various civet species, giant flying squirrels, serow, muntjacs, sambar deer, macaques, and birdlife, including Indochinese Green Magpie, Yunnan Fulvetta, Silver Pheasant and various species of hornbills, as well as hear the beautiful morning calls of the critically endangered Northern White-Cheeked Gibbons. Together with the park guide and village spotter (themselves former poacher), analyze footprints, scratches, scat, and view camera trap images set along the trail, and you might find evidence of clouded leopard, dhole, or bears.
The most challenging trek, leads up to the summit of Phou Louey the “Forever” Mountain (Elev. 2257m),- the highest point of the National Park and the third highest summit in Laos!