Biodiversity values – Lao PDR harbors a unique and rich biodiversity. Ecosystems of international significance and importance include the wet evergreen forest and montane forests of the Greater Annamites, massive karst formations in central Lao PDR, and large wetland complexes in the plains of the Mekong and its tributaries.

These areas home to numerous endemic, migratory and threatened species, some of which are extinct in some parts of the world but still found in the Lao PDR. Examples include the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), clouded leopard (Pardofelis nebulosa), gaur (Bos gaurus), saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), gibbons (Hylobates spp., Nomascus spp.), Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis), Laos Warty Newt (Laotriton laoensis) and the white winged duck (Cairina scutulata). 

Biodiversity in Lao PDR is rich but understudied and poorly understood, with new species still being discovered. To date, 49 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) have been delineated, of which approximately 60% are legally protected.


Kerstin Brauneder
Manoly Sisavanh
Simon Mahood

Despite a large network of protected areas, biodiversity has been strongly affected by human activities. Anthropogenic pressures and habitat loss have resulted in local extinctions and depleted   wildlife densities: Nationally, several species have become extinct in recent decades (Kouprey Bos sauveli, Tiger Panthera tigris, Rhinoceros Rhinoceros sondaicus) and many others are on the brink of extinction (Gibbons, Turtles, Irrawaddy Dolphin Orcaella brevirostris, Saola). 

Main threats to biodiversity include habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, illegal wildlife trade, hunting and poaching. Hunting is ubiquitous in rural areas and fuelled by a considerable demand for animal products from neighbouring countries. Forest clearing is driven by commercial and small-holder agriculture, followed by direct and indirect impacts of large infrastructure projects. Within the protected area network, management and law enforcement efforts by the Government of Lao PDR are additionally challenged by limited financial resources and capacity.


The preservation of forests, water resources, ecosystem services and biodiversity are key components of the Government of Lao PDR’s sustainable development strategy and policies. Major policy and guidance documents supporting this objective include: 

  • The Forest Strategy 2020, which formulated Lao PDR’ ambitious and emblematic target to recover a forest cover of 70% by 2020 – and is recently being revised to be achieved by 2025 (forthcoming Forest Strategy 2030).

  • The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for Lao PDR (NBSAP), and its 2016-2025 Action Plan which sets objectives for the management and financing of protected areas. 

  • The National Green Growth Strategy 2030 of Lao PDR (2019) which outlines a sustainable development path that prioritizes, among others, nature-based tourism and sustainable forestry. 

Additionally, the Government of Lao PDR is signatory of the main international conventions relating to biodiversity and the environment: 

  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

  • Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention)

  • World Heritage Convention 

  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 

The “National Biodiversity and Action Plan 2016-2025” is the primary document outlining the Lao PDR’s biodiversity priorities, and is accessible on the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Lao PDR country profile website. The plan’s goal is to “enhance the role of biodiversity as a national heritage and as a substantial contributor to poverty alleviation, as well as sustainable and resilient economic growth”. To this end, 29 NBSAP targets have been identified, including: 

  • “The extinction of at least 5 priority species (to be determined from the Lao Red lists) are effectively prevented through better law enforcement and in situ and ex situ conservation.” (Target 1.5.3) 

  • “At least 250 Fish Conservation and breeding sites (that include local /indigenous species) are established and are recognized /supported by stakeholders living in the watersheds where these sites belong.” (Target 1.2.1)

  • “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and BD concerns are incorporated in the internal code of conduct (or agreed standard business practices) among companies in at least 5 key industries (energy, agriculture, forestry, tourism and chemical)” (Target 2.2.2)


Lao PDR is experiencing very strong economic growth, driven by numerous foreign investments. The country’s biodiversity has been negatively impacted by developments, particularly resulting from private sector investment, including agricultural expansion, forest extraction, mining, as well as linear infrastructure and hydropower dam construction. 

Hydropower development in particular, is progressing at a seemingly unsustainable rate, with 90 projects planned over the next decade. 33% of Lao PDR’s wealth is estimated to be generated through hydropower development. Additionally, the development of mining and hydropower projects within protected areas is not uncommon, with resulting impacts on unique and irreplaceable biodiversity. 

In recent years, the Government of Lao PDR has demonstrated greater political will to reconcile its development and conservation objectives and achieve long-term sustainable management of biodiversity. Promising developments at the national policy level include:

  • Prime Minister’s Decree on Protected Area (PA) management: Issued in 2015, the decree clarifies the management of PAs and states that compensation must be paid for development projects in PAs.

  • Prime Minister’s Decree on development concessions: Issued in 2012, the decree requires the Ministry of National Resources and Environment (MONRE) to assess concessions, documenting their location, environmental and social compliance, and develop methods to better plan for where they should be placed in the future. 

  • Decree on the approval and promulgation of the policy on sustainable hydropower development in Lao PDR: Issued in 2015, the decree defines the principle of hydropower project sustainability and states that projects are subject to Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA), apply the mitigation hierarchy and develop sustainable biodiversity management plans.  

  • Most recently, Lao PDR’s new Land Law (2019) and Forest Law (2019) also mention compensation requirements.


Support and assist the Government of Lao PDR in the mainstreaming of the mitigation hierarchy by supporting the establishment of appropriate policies, and developing tools and guidance for spatial planning and offset implementation to avoid, mitigate and offset impacts on priority biodiversity. 


  • Conduct gap analysis of national and sectoral regulatory and planning documents and guidelines for the implementation of mitigation hierarchy

  • Identify, review and carry out a gap analysis of spatial datasets and decision-making tools available to inform mitigation planning by government and private sector


“Guide on Responsible Agriculture and Forestry Investment in Lao PDR – A case study for Chinese Investors”.


February 2021: New Protected Species list for Lao PDR – Wildlife List of Lao PDR Category I (Prohibited) and II (Managed) has been officially endorsed by the Prime Minister on 25th February 2021. Wildlife List for Category III had previously been endorsed on 27th November 2020 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF). This list is included as an appendix to the Lao Wildlife and Aquatic Law.


Kerstin Brauneder
Project Manager for COMBO in Lao PDR

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