Mongabay.com is considered a leading source of information on tropical forests by some of the world's top ecologists and conservationists. TROPICAL RAINFORESTS: TROPICAL RAINFORESTS

LAOS

Laos Forest Figures

Forest Cover
Total forest area: 16,142,000 ha
% of land area: 69.9%

Primary forest cover: 1,490,000 ha
% of land area: 6.5%
% total forest area: 9.2%

Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -78,000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.5%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 4.5%
Total forest loss since 1990: -1,172,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-6.8%

Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: n/a
Annual deforestation rate: n/a
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: n/a
Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a
Primary forest loss since 1990:0.0%

Forest Classification
Public: 100%
Private: 0%
Other: 0%
Use
Production: 21.6%
Protection: 54.7%
Conservation: 23.5%
Social services: 0.2%
Multiple purpose: n/a
None or unknown: n/a

Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 16,142,000 ha
Primary: 1,490,000 ha
Modified natural: 14,428,000 ha
Semi-natural: n/a
Production plantation: 223,000 ha
Production plantation: 1,000 ha

Plantations
Plantations, 2005: 224,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 1.4%
Annual change rate (00-05): 25,000,000 ha

Carbon storage
Above-ground biomass: 2,342 M t
Below-ground biomass: 632 M t

Area annually affected by
Fire: 100,000 ha
Insects: n/a
Diseases: n/a

Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 1,457
Critically endangered: 5
Endangered: 7
Vulnerable: 8

Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 682,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 6,742,000 m3 o.b.

Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $40,931,000
Wood fuel: $20,226,000
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $61,157,000


More forest statistics for Laos

Despite a small population, undeveloped mineral deposits, and forest covering nearly 70 percent of the country, Lao's forests are threatened. Slash-and-burn agriculture, uncontrolled fires, commercial and illegal logging, and fuelwood collection resulted in the loss of 6.8 percent of the country's forests between 1990 and 2005. The deforestation rate has increased moderately since the close of the 1990s, but there is concern that the shift from a command economy toward a market-oriented economy will put increasing pressure on the forest resources of Laos.

The natural resources of Laos—including oil, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric potential, and mineral deposits—are attracting development interest in the country. According to the Wall Street Journal (September 16, 2004; "Laos Is Looking Like a Gold Mine To Foreigners" by Patrick Barta), foreign investors are looking to capitalize on Laos' underdeveloped mineral resources. With gold prices steady over $400 and few new deposits turning up in the usual places, mining companies are flocking to this poor, land-locked country bordered by China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Laos, which holds the dubious record of being the most bombed country in the world despite never officially being involved in the Vietnam war, may become an important source of revenue for mining companies willing to take on the extra risk associated with operating in a country with large amounts of unexploded ordnance and poor infrastructure.

With the prospect of expanded mining operations in Laos, there is considerable concern over the environmental impact. Clear-cutting and the use of chemicals, especially mercury and cyanide, can cause severe ecological damage. Mining also exposes previously buried metal sulfides to atmospheric oxygen, causing their conversion to sulfuric acid and metal oxides, which run off into local waterways. Oxides tend to be more soluble in water and contaminate local rivers with heavy metals, affecting human populations and wildlife.

In the short term, the financial opportunities presented by mining overwhelm the potential ecological effects. For example, at peak production, a $330-million operation run by Australia-owned Oxiana should yield as much as $15 million in royalties and taxes for Laos—a significant sum for a country where the per capita GDP is around $1,700 per year.

Conservation in Laos faces considerable obstacles not only from increased interest in mining but also from the activities mentioned above, The strongly centralized approach to conservation—Laos is a Communist country—may spawn animosity toward conservation efforts at a local level if initiatives fail to account for local needs.

Despite these hurdles, there is hope for conservation in Laos. In an effort to protect the country's species richness, Laos recently established 18 National Biodiversity Conservation Areas including one known as Nakai Nam Theum National Biodiversity Area in the mountainous border area near Vietnam. During the 1990s researchers in this protected area discovered a new genus of cattle-like mammal along with two deer-like species.

Recent articles | Laos news updates | XML

Chinese luxury furniture linked to murder, near extinction
(05/12/2014) Intricately carved, meticulously designed, and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars: this is "hongmu," or Chinese luxury furniture reflecting the elite styles of the Ming and Qing dynasties. But while the red-colored furniture may be aesthetically beautiful, it comes with a blood price.


Long lost mammal photographed on camera trap in Vietnam
(03/25/2014) In 1929, two sons of Theodore Roosevelt (Teddy Junior and Kermit) led an expedition that killed a barking deer, or muntjac, in present-day Laos, which has left scientists puzzled for over 80 years. At first scientists believed it to be a distinct species of muntjac and named it Roosevelts' muntjac (Muntiacus rooseveltorum), however that designation was soon cast into doubt with some scientists claiming it was a specimen of an already-known muntjac or a subspecies. The problem was compounded by the fact that the animal simply disappeared in the wild. No one ever documented a living Roosevelts' muntjac again—until now.


The smoothtooth blacktip shark and four other species rediscovered in markets
(01/21/2014) Scientific American) magazine recently ran an article on the rediscovery of the smoothtooth blacktip shark (Carcharhinus leiodon) in a Kuwaiti fish market. Believed extinct for over 100 years, the smoothtooth had not been seen since the naturalist Wilhelm Hein returned from a trip to Yemen in 1902. With its reappearance, scientists scoured Kuwaiti markets and discovered an astounding 47 individual smoothtooth blacktips.


Asia's 'unicorn' photographed in Vietnam
(11/12/2013) In 1992, scientists made a spectacular discovery: a large, land mammal (200 pounds) that had somehow eluded science even as humans visited the moon and split the atom. Its discoverers, with WWF and Vietnam's Ministry of Forestry, dubbed the species the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis). Found in the Annamite Mountains in Laos and Vietnam, the saola is a two-horned beautiful bovine that resembles an African antelope and, given its rarity, has been called the Asian unicorn. Since its discovery, scientists have managed to take photos via camera trap of a wild saola (in 1999) and even briefly studied live specimens brought into villages in Laos before they died (in 1996 and again in 2010), however the constant fear of extinction loomed over efforts to save the species. But WWF has announced good news today: a camera trap has taken photos of a saola in an unnamed protected area in Vietnam, the first documentation of the animal in the country in 15 years.


Lao ecotourism project wins responsible travel award for innovation
(11/11/2013) An ecotourism project in a remote part of Laos has won the prestigious World Responsible Tourism Award for Best for Responsible Wildlife Experience. The Nam Nern Night Safari, an ecotour in Lao PDR's Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Houaphan Province, was recognized by the World Travel Mart for its innovative approach to generating benefits for local communities.


Scientists discover new flying mammal in bushmeat market
(08/06/2013) The bushmeat markets of Lao PDR (Laos) are filled with racks of wild game harvested both legally and illegally from the surrounding landscapes. While these meat markets certainly provide local protein to patrons, for wildlife biologists they offer something more. These bizarre zoological exhibits are a rich source of information about wildlife populations and wildlife consumption in remote areas.


Mekong region has lost a third of its forests in 30 years, may lose another third by 2030
(05/03/2013) The Greater Mekong region of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Vietnam will lose a third of its remaining forest cover by 2030 unless regional governments improve management of natural resources and transition toward a greener growth model, warns a new report issued by WWF.


The river of plenty: uncovering the secrets of the amazing Mekong
(04/23/2013) Home to giant catfish and stingrays, feeding over 60 million people, and with the largest abundance of freshwater fish in the world, the Mekong River, and its numerous tributaries, brings food, culture, and life to much of Southeast Asia. Despite this, little is known about the biodiversity and ecosystems of the Mekong, which is second only to the Amazon in terms of freshwater biodiversity. Meanwhile, the river is facing an existential crisis in the form of 77 proposed dams, while population growth, pollution, and development further imperil this understudied, but vast, ecosystem.


Captive frogs may be spreading diseases to wild cousins across Southeast Asia
(03/07/2013) Scientists have documented a series of links between exotic frogs for trade and diseases in wild frogs in Southeast Asia, including the first documented case of the chytrid fungus—a virulent and lethal disease—in Singapore. According to researchers writing in a new study in EcoHealth, frogs imported into Southeast Asia as pets, food, or traditional medicine are very likely spreading diseases to wild populations.


Cute animal picture of the day: white-cheeked gibbon baby
(01/16/2013) A northern white-cheeked gibbon pair (Nomascus leucogenys) at the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Bronx Zoo have given birth to a brand new infant. This is the mother gibbon's 11th infant.


Mystery surrounds disappearance of prominent environmental activist in Laos
(12/23/2012) Questions surrounding the disappearance of 60-year-old Sombath Somphone deepened after the government of Laos denied kidnapping and holding the prominent social activist, reports the Associated Press.


Pictures: 126 new species discovered in Greater Mekong region last year
(12/18/2012) Some 126 new species were described in Asia'a Mekong region last year, notes a new report published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).


Controversial dam gets approval in Laos
(11/07/2012) Laos has given approval to the hugely-controversial $3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River, reports the BBC. The massive dam, which would provide 95 percent of its energy production to Thailand, has been criticized for anticipated impacts on the river's fish populations, on which many locals depend.


Corruption still plundering forests in Laos for furniture
(09/26/2012) The forests of Lao are still suffering from widespread destruction with the government turning a blind eye to a thriving black market logging trade on the border of Laos and Vietnam, according to an update report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Last year, the EIA found that powerful players, including the Vietnamese military, were plundering Laos of its forests for raw logs. Smuggled from Laos into Vietnam, the raw logs are crafted into furniture, which are eventually exported to Europe and the U.S. Now, over a year later a new report finds little has changed.


Mekong dam spree could create regional food crisis
(08/27/2012) Fish are a hugely important protein source for many people around the world. This is no more evident than along the lower Mekong River delta where an estimated 48 million people depend directly on the river for food and livelihoods. But now a new study in Global Environmental Change cautions that 11 planned hydroelectric dams in the region could cut vital fish populations by 16 percent while putting more strain on water and land resources.


Controversial Xayaburi dam in Laos officially suspended
(07/15/2012) Work on the controversial Xayaburi dam in the People's Democratic Republic of Lao has been suspended, reports Reuters.


Guilty pleas in NYC ivory bust
(07/13/2012) Two ivory dealers pled guilty to trafficking some $2 million worth of elephant ivory.


Exploring Asia's lost world
(05/03/2012) Abandoned by NGOs and the World Bank, carved out for rubber plantations and mining by the Cambodian government, spiraling into a chaos of poaching and illegal logging, and full of endangered species and never-explored places, Virachey National Park may be the world's greatest park that has been written off by the international community. But a new book by explorer and PhD student, Greg McCann, hopes to change that. Entitled Called Away by a Mountain Spirit: Journey to the Green Corridor, the book highlights expeditions by McCann into parts of Virachey that have rarely been seen by outsiders and have never been explored scientifically, including rare grasslands that once housed herds of Asian elephants, guar, and Sambar deer, before poachers drove them into hiding, and faraway mountains with rumors of tigers and mainland Javan rhinos.


UN: wild teak forests declining
(03/28/2012) Wild teak forests continue to decline, threatening genetic diversity, while commercial planted teak forests are on the rise, according to a new assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Overall, teak forests have declined by 1.3 percent, or 385,000 hectares, worldwide from 1992 to 2010. Teak (Tectona grandis) is used for a variety of commercial purposes, including outdoor furniture and flooring.


Vampire and bird frogs: discovering new amphibians in Southeast Asia's threatened forests
(02/06/2012) In 2009 researchers discovered 19,232 species new to science, most of these were plants and insects, but 148 were amphibians. Even as amphibians face unprecedented challenges—habitat loss, pollution, overharvesting, climate change, and a lethal disease called chytridiomycosis that has pushed a number of species to extinction—new amphibians are still being uncovered at surprising rates. One of the major hotspots for finding new amphibians is the dwindling tropical forests of Southeast Asia.


Forgotten species: the wild jungle cattle called banteng
(01/31/2012) The word "cattle," for most of us, is the antithesis of exotic; it's familiar like a family member one's happy enough to ignore, but doesn't really mind having around. Think for a moment of the names: cattle, cow, bovine...likely they make many of us think more of the animals' byproducts than the creatures themselves—i.e. milk, butter, ice cream or steak—as if they were an automated food factory and not living beings. But if we expand our minds a bit further, "cattle" may bring up thoughts of cowboys, Texas, herds pounding the dust, or merely grazing dully in the pasture. But none of these titles, no matter how far we pursue them, conjure up images of steamy tropical rainforest or gravely imperiled species. A cow may be beautiful in its own domesticated sort-of-way, but there is nothing wild in it, nothing enchanting. However like most generalizations, this idea of cattle falls to pieces when one encounters, whether in literature or life, the banteng.


Logging of primary rainforests not ecologically sustainable, argue scientists
(01/25/2012) Tropical countries may face a risk of 'peak timber' as continued logging of rainforests exceeds the capacity of forests to regenerate timber stocks and substantially increases the risk of outright clearing for agricultural and industrial plantations, argues a trio of scientists writing in the journal Biological Conservation. The implications for climate, biodiversity, and local economies are substantial.


The dark side of new species discovery
(12/21/2011) Scientists and the public usually rejoice when a new species is discovered. But biologist Bryan Stuart has learned the hard way that the discovery of new species, especially when that species is commercially valuable, has a dark side-one that could potentially wipe out the new species before protections can be put in place. Stuart has discovered 27 species unknown previously to scientists - so far. That includes 22 species of frogs, three types of snakes, and two salamanders. His experience with one of these, a warty salamander from Laos with striking markings (Laotriton laoensis), opened his eyes to a dark side of scientific discovery: commercial overexploitation before protections are in place. Shortly after Stuart described the previously unknown species Paramesotriton laoensis in a scientific paper published in 2002, commercial dealers began collecting this Lao newt for sale into the pet trade. In essence, the dealers used Stuart's geographic description in the paper as a “roadmap” to find the rare newt.


Earth systems disruption: Does 2011 indicate the "new normal" of climate chaos and conflict?
(12/21/2011) The year 2011 has presented the world with a shocking increase in irregular weather and disasters linked to climate change. Just as the 2007 "big melt" of summer arctic sea ice sent scientists and environmentalists scrambling to re-evaluate the severity of climate change, so have recent events forced major revisions and updates in climate science.


Featured video: documentary on logging mafia
(12/19/2011) A new documentary, The Real Chainsaw Massacre, follows the corrupt and violent black market of illegal timber trading in Vietnam. The documentary highlights the efforts of undercover investigators with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) working to expose the lucrative trade of illegal logging from Laos to Vietnam. A trade that is not only decimating forests in Southeast Asia, but is imperiling biodiversity, harming locals, and often coupled with other illegal activities.


Suggested reading - Books


Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [Bibliographic citation for this page]

Other resources

Contact me if you have suggestions on other rainforest-related environmental sites and resources for this country.


Image copyright Google Earth, MDA EarthSet, DigitalGlobe 2005

CIA-World Factbook Profile
FAO-Forestry Profile



Last updated: 4 Feb 2006






what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact

Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2013

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region.
Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.

"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.