Tham Luang, scene of 2018 cave rescue, eyed for ASEAN Heritage status

Tourists take photos in front of a backdrop showing the entrance to Tham Luang a few steps from the real thing in a January 2019 file photo. Photo: Coconuts
Tourists take photos in front of a backdrop showing the entrance to Tham Luang a few steps from the real thing in a January 2019 file photo. Photo: Coconuts

Two years after the rescue of 13 boys put it on the world’s map, a cave complex in the north and its surrounding park is on the way to winning regional protected status.

The Tham Luang Forest Park was nominated along with Khao Sok National Park to become an ASEAN Heritage Park yesterday by the cabinet.

Government spokesperson Rachada Dhanadirek said Tuesday the cabinet decided to advance the proposal by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to raise the parks’ status as well-preserved ecological parks in the 10-member block.

Tomorrow marks two years to the day that the 13 members of the Wild Boars football team and their coach were discovered alive by British volunteer divers, nine days after they were reported missing. The world became captivated by their plight and the site has turned into a popular tourist draw following their successful rescue. Located in Chiang Rai province, the Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park is currently in the process of being registered as a national park. 

It has a unique ecosystem that includes a unique mix of forest and aquatic life. It is also home to several endangered species. At 10,316 meters, Tham Luang is the fourth longest cave in the kingdom, while the mountain range above resembles the shape like a reclining woman. The park is also surrounded by 10 distinct ethnic communities, such as Akha and Tai-Yai.

Being granted ASEAN Heritage Park status would both raise its profile and also bring additional conservation funds. The program is managed by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, a 15-year-old organization created to respond to regional loss of biodiversity.

Khao Sok National Park in Surat Thani province was also nominated for its biodiversity, from tropical rainforests and freshwater swamps, which are home to critically at-risk species such as clouded leopards and tapirs.

Thailand currently has six ASEAN Heritage Parks, including the Khao Yai, Kaeng Krachan, Tarutao and Hat Chao Mai national parks.

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