Back to sender: a national park in Asia takes on litterbugs

28 September 2020

Littering is endemic across Southeast Asia and not even national parks and protected wildlife reserves are spared the curse of rubbish left behind by visitors.

Take the Mossy Forest of Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands where moss-covered tree trunks with gnarly roots vie for space amidst thick growths of lichens and ferns in a scenic landscape of lush vegetation dotted with bright orchids and colorful butterflies.

The forest seems like the scene of a fairytale, yet often it isn’t just such wonders of nature that catch the eye. So do unsightly mounds of plastic wrappings and other trash thrown away by visitors despite “no littering” signs placed strategically along footpaths.

In neighboring Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park, near Bangkok, many visitors have likewise been in the habit of befouling pristine natural sceneries by throwing their trash away without a care in the world.

Such wanton littering is not only unseemly but positively dangerous to wildlife. In July a wild elephant died in another national park in Thailand after mistakenly swallowing discarded plastic bags and other items that blocked its digestive tract.

In response to the scourge of littering officials in Khao Yai National Park have come up with a solution: sending trash back to people who have left it behind.

Litterbugs also face the prospect of hefty fines and even a spell in prison after visiting the park, which covers nearly 2,200sqkm and is popular with campers who can rent rents and stay overnight in select areas. By law, litterers can be sentenced to five years in prison and slapped with a fine of up to $16,000.

“Please don’t forget to put your rubbish in the bins provided before leaving, in order to avoid endangering wild animals,” Varawut Silpa-archa, the country’s minister of Natural Resources and Environment, said, adding that officials will mail “every bit of rubbish back to [littering] tourists as a souvenir.”

Khao Yai is part of Thailand’s Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to a wide variety of endangered species: elephants, pig-tailed macaques, gibbons, porcupines, civets, sun bears, gaurs and jackals, to name a few.

Some 445 species of birds, including critically endangered hornbills, also inhabit local forests, making the national park a haven for birdwatchers.

Visitors need to register before entering the park, which will make it easier for local rangers to track down people who leave behind their trash.

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