The Irrawaddy

Armed Conflict Harming Efforts to Save Myanmar’s Tigers, Group Says

A wild tiger is seen in the upper Chindwin River area in 2016 in a photo captured by a camera trap placed by WCS.

YANGON — Ending armed conflict is crucial to Myanmar’s efforts to save the tiger populations in its wildlife reserves, said a wildlife conservation NGO on Thursday, warning that the country’s tiger population continues to dwindle.

The tiger population of Myanmar’s wildlife sanctuaries is now less than 100, compared to around 150 in 2003, according to the Myanmar chapter of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Globally, the number of tigers has dropped to less than 4,000 from about 100,000 a century ago.

Myanmar hosts the world’s largest tiger reserve in the Hukawng Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, an area covering over 17,373 square kilometers. However, conservationists and researchers have been hampered in their efforts by armed conflict in the valley between the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) and the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA).

WCS Myanmar, World Wildlife Fund and Flora and Fauna International (FFI) are collaborating with the Forestry Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation to preserve wildlife through research projects in the Hukawng Valley, Htamanthi and Tannitharyi Range wildlife sanctuaries.

U Than Myint, the country directory of WCS Myanmar, told reporters on Thursday, “If the fighting eased, we could strengthen our preservation efforts.”

The fighting in the Hukawng Valley has forced villagers to flee for their lives and therefore “They have not been able to devote themselves to preserving wildlife.”

“We hope for a decent peace in the region, so that they can stay in their homes and participate in preservation projects, as the villagers play a vital role in wildlife conservation,” U Than Myint said.

He was speaking at a press conference arranged by WCS Myanmar in Yangon on Thursday, two days ahead of International Tiger Day on July 29. The organization aims to share information about its research activities in the upper Chindwin River region, in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing Region, and to promote awareness among the public of the importance of tiger conservation.

WCS Myanmar conducts research there using camera traps to document the tiger population and those of the species it preys on. It has placed more than 100 camera traps in 225 places to research tigers and their prey in the upper Chindwin area over the past three years.

Based on its research, the organization says, “There is hope for success for tiger conservation in Myanmar.” The group has documented the presence of numerous tiger cubs during its three years of research from December 2014 to December 2017, said U Hla Naing, who is in charge of research on the country’s northern forests for WCS Myanmar.

However, he said, challenges remain as Myanmar still faces problems with poaching, illegal wildlife trade, and illegal logging and mining in the protected areas.

“Protecting tigers and other species means protecting our forests, wildlife and environment,” he said. WCS Myanmar said concerns remain as the illegal wildlife trade continues to be fueled by demand in neighboring China. Thus, public awareness needs to be raised, he said.

WCS Myanmar has been providing awareness training to local residents of affected areas. Over 130 trainees have joined the program since 2016.

“We provide the community with guardian training, so as to allow community participation, which is the key,” added Ko Pyae Phyoe Kyaw, research assistant at WCS Myanmar.