Mandalay Birdwatchers Cry Foul as Rare Populations Dwindle

By Sanay Lin 13 January 2015

Birdwatchers have reported a stunning decline in wildlife at the Paleik Lake in Mandalay Division, with some suggesting that the animals are poisoned and sold in local markets.

Local avian enthusiasts said that the lake is a wintering ground for more than 20 species of migratory birds, including a rare species of wild swan. But not everyone, they said, comes to the lake to enjoy the extraordinary view.

Thein Aung, vice-chairman of the Mandalay Birdwatchers Association, said local authorities are doing little to educate people about conservation, while low incomes are driving up incentive for illegal bird-catching. Villagers sometimes come to the lake to hunt for birds and then sell them as deep-fried snacks at nearby tourist attractions, such as U Bein Bridge, he said.

“Fried birds are being sold and people are still not aware that they shouldn’t eat them. Even owls are sold at U Bein Bridge,” Thein Aung said, lamenting that the practice “affects the image of the country.”

A wildlife photographer known by his online alias, Solo Mdy, has documented some of the damage. He wrote recently on social media sites that he had seen moorhens he believed were killed by sodium cyanide, a toxic salt most commonly used in gold extraction. The poison is sometimes used to kill fish and other animals because of its high toxicity.

Solo Mdy wrote that a “boat owner showed us a bird whose neck was cut. He said that it died from sodium cyanide, locally known as ‘neck cutter’ because it cuts off the throat veins when consumed.”

Following pleas from conservationists to enforce wildlife protection measures, police and local administrators recently inspected local markets around the lake in search of illegal bird products. Officer Zaw Win Kyaw of the Paleik Township Police told The Irrawaddy that inspectors did not find any bird meat.

Zaw Win Kyaw added that birdwatchers themselves ought to take more preventative action by educating hunters, vendors and consumers about conservation.

“We can’t decide whether [poisoning birds] is a police issue or not. So far, we haven’t taken any action against bird hunters,” he said.

Zay Maung Thein, a local bird watcher and nature enthusiast, said the problem is too big to be handled by people like himself, without the help of law enforcement.

“All we can do is give talks and put up posters,” said Zaw Maung Thein. “It is simply not enough. There are wildlife protection laws and authorities have to make sure they are followed. So far, I haven’t seen them do anything to stop it.”