Nhe Nature Reserve
Alternative site name(s)
Muong Nhe-Muong Cha, Muong Te
21o50' – 22o35'N, 102o10' – 102o58'E
Topography and hydrology
Muong Nhe Nature Reserve is located in
Muong Te and Muong Lay districts in the extreme north-west
of Vietnam. The nature reserve is bounded by the international
border with Laos in the west and the international border
with China. The topography of Muong Nhe Nature Reserve
is dominated by medium-high mountains. The average height
of these mountains is around 1,200 m but there are several
peaks above 1,800 m, and the highest point, Mount
Phu Nam Man, reaches 2,124 m.
Muong Nhe Nature Reserve supports only
47,400 ha of forest, equivalent to 15% of the total area
of the nature reserve. This figure comprises 9,920 ha of
lowland evergreen forest (distributed at elevations below
800 m), 19,850 ha of lower montane evergreen forest (distributed
at elevations between 800 and 1,800 m), 1,705 ha of upper
montane evergreen forest (distributed at elevations above
1,800 m) and 15,925 ha of bamboo forest. The remaining area
of the nature reserve comprises 204,201 ha of grassland,
and 43,980 ha of shifting cultivation and scrub. The dominant
vegetation type at Muong Nhe Nature Reserve is,
therefore, grassland, which accounts for 66% of the total
area. This vegetation type is dominated by Imperata cylindrica,
Themeda gigantea, Thysanolaena maxima, Saccharum spontaneum
and Erianthus arundinaceus.
Before the 1990s, Muong Nhe was considered
to be an important area for the conservation of large mammals.
For instance, scientists estimated that there were more
than 200 Asian Elephant Elephas maximus at Muong
Nhe in the early 1970s. However, following the
border war with China in 1979, automatic weapons became
more widely available in the area, and the population sizes
of most large mammal species declined. By the time of the
WWF/Ministry of Forestry survey in 1991, large mammals were
already scarce at Muong Nhe: Tiger Panthera
tigris was described as "rare", Gaur Bos gaurus
was described as "possibly facing extinction"
and Asian Elephant was described as "almost extinct".
Based on the results of the BirdLife/FIPI rapid field
survey, there is no evidence for the continued occurrence
of Asian Elephant at Muong Nhe, while other
large mammals only survive in small, isolated groups, as
a result of habitat fragmentation.
In addition, the BirdLife/FIPI team received reports from
local people that indicate that White-cheeked Crested Gibbon
Hylobates leucogenys may still occur at the nature reserve.
The feasibility study prepared by WWF and the former Ministry
of Forestry contains a provisional list of 222 bird species,
while the first and second investment plans report that
270 bird species occur at Muong Nhe Nature Reserve.
However, as it is unclear whether these data were collected
by field survey, compiled from past reports or predicted
based on known distributions, few conclusions can be drawn
from these figures. A more reliable source of information
on the avifauna of Muong Nhe is the field
survey conducted by Frontier-Vietnam in 1997. This field
survey recorded 158 bird species in the nature reserve and
the area immediately to the south.
Other documented values
Remaining forest areas in the nature reserve have an important
role in protecting the water resources of local communities
and the watershed of the Black River.
. Muong Nhe is the only protected area in Vietnam that
supports more than 20,000 ha of agricultural land, scrub
and non-natural grassland. Ways of reducing the extent of
agricultural land, scrub and non-natural grassland through
redefinition of this protected area's boundaries should
2. The proposal to extend Muong Nhe to 314,000 ha (an increase
of 132,000 ha) will mean that over 250,000 ha of non-forest
land will be supported inside its boundaries.
In October 2000, FIPI and BirdLife International conducted
a rapid field survey of Muong Nhe Nature Reserve, in order
to assess the conservation status of the site, and to re-evaluate
the importance of the site within Vietnam's protected areas
Muong Nhe was established in 1976, after a decision by
Lai Chau Provincial People's Committee. The nature reserve
was decreed by the central government in 1986. Muong Nhe
Nature Reserve is situated in Muong Te district, Lai Chau
province, at the point where the borders of Vietnam, China
and Laos meet. The total proposed area of Muong Nhe Nature
Reserve is over 300,000 ha. Despite its size and status,
the site has no management board and nature reserve management
regulations are not enforced within the nature reserve.
The dominant vegetation types at Muong Nhe are grassland,
scrub, bamboo forest and regenerating forest. In the early
1970s, the site supported significant populations of large
mammals, including a population of Asian Elephant Elephas
maximus estimated at more than 200 individuals. However,
as a result of uncontrolled hunting and habitat loss, all
large mammal populations have declined dramatically, and
some species, including Asian Elephant, have already been
eradicated. The results of the rapid field survey indicate
that Muong Nhe Nature Reserve may support remnant populations
of a number of species of global conservation concern, including
Gaur Bos gaurus, White-cheeked Gibbon Hylobates leucogenys,
Asiatic Black Bear Ursus thibetanus and Sun Bear U. malayanus.
However, as hunting pressure shows no signs of decreasing,
it is likely that all of these populations will continue
The socio-economic studies undertaken during the rapid field
survey revealed a very high level of human dependence on
forest resources. The human population density in the area
is increasing, particularly as a result of spontaneous in-migration.
In Muong Toong commune alone, 82.5% of total population
comprises in-migrants. This rapid population increase has
led to an increase in forest clearance for agriculture and
an intensification of hunting pressure.
Based on the results of the rapid field survey, this report
recommends redefining the boundary of Muong Nhe Nature Reserve,
to exclude large areas of non-forest habitat of marginal
conservation importance. The proposed revised boundary includes
a total area of 61,571 ha, comprising parts of Sin Thau,
Chung Chai, Muong Nhe and Muong Toong communes. Forest cover
within the revised nature reserve would be 59.2%, and the
enforcement of nature reserve management regulations within
the revised nature reserve would be more feasible. The revised
nature reserve would be contiguous with Phou Dendin National
Biodiversity Conservation Area in Laos.