YANGON – The British Embassy in Yangon launched a regional short-film competition on Thursday as part of a UK government initiative to combat the global illegal wildlife trade (IWT).
The UK government, in association with the Luang Prabang Film Festival, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) aim to use filmmaking as a tool to raise awareness among the public and policymakers about the need to protect endangered wildlife, to reinforce wildlife conservation practices and the importance of generating long-term sustainable solutions in the Mekong region.
The #IWT Mekong Short Film competition is open to filmmakers from the Mekong region countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, and to foreign filmmakers residing in those countries.
The film competition is “an opportunity to produce films which draw attention to this horrible issue of the illegal wildlife trade. We are looking for creative, exciting short films produced by some of Myanmar’s best up-and-coming filmmakers,” said David Hall, the embassy’s deputy head of mission.
He said that Myanmar, given its abundant wildlife and the fact that it formed part of the notoriously lawless Golden Triangle border area with Laos and Thailand, is particularly vulnerable to the illegal wildlife trade. The trafficking of illegal wildlife is the third-largest illicit trade in the world, worth an estimated USD19 billion per year. It threatens endangered species such as tigers, Asian and African elephants, rhinos and pangolins.
“This is a great way to add national and unique voices to the fight against the illegal trade,” said Christy Williams, country director for WWF-Myanmar, describing Myanmar as being on “the front line of the international illegal wildlife trade.”
The deadline for film submissions is Aug. 15. Films can be up to 6 minutes in length. Interested filmmakers are invited to contact WWF for information on the illegal wildlife trade situation in Myanmar.
The first, second and third prize winners will be awarded USD5,000, 4,000 and 3,000 respectively. The winners will be invited to present their films in the UK on the sidelines of the 2018 London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, to be held on Oct. 10-11. The UK will be inviting governments and NGOs from all over the world to attend the event.
The winners will also receive round-trip plane tickets and accommodation to attend and participate in the 9th Luang Prabang Film Festival in Laos on Dec. 7-12.
Special, country-level prizes worth USD2,000 each will be awarded to the best contributions from each country.
International NGOs said the wildlife trade posed a real threat in Myanmar and deserved more public attention. However, WWF said, the Myanmar public’s involvement in the protection of wild animals and suppression of illicit trading had increased, with an estimated 25 million Myanmar people taking part in the “Voices for MoMos” campaign to protect elephants from poaching and skinning.
In May, the Union Parliament approved the Protection of Biodiversity and Protected Areas Law, which prescribes mandatory prison sentences for poaching or trade in completely protected species or species protected under CITES (the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
Despite the continuous poaching and skinning of elephants and trading in other wild animals, authorities are cooperating to shut down shops selling ivory and other wildlife parts at Shwedagon Pagoda and Bogyoke Market, the WWF said.
As people in some parts of Myanmar still use wild animals for food, and engage in trade with neighboring China in endangered species, Daw May Moe Wah, partnership manager of WWF Myanmar said, WWF is planning to launch a poster campaign to encourage people to stop poaching and to stop selling bush meat to restaurants.
Williams of the WWF added, “While steps are being taken to combat it, all sectors must come together if we are to keep Myanmar’s wildlife for future generations.”
With Myanmar’s tourist numbers on the increase, and likely to rise further if the country remains politically stable, Williams said, Myanmar lacks the kind of wildlife tourism that exists in neighboring countries India, Thailand and Nepal. He added that combating the illegal wildlife trade also helped to develop the economy.
“They [tourists] go to Bagan, Shwedagon, Naypyitaw, Mandalay, but they do not have a single place in Myanmar where they can go to see wildlife,” Williams said.
He added, “Every poacher that’s taking Myanmar’s wildlife out and trading it to China and other places means that your people are losing opportunities, economic opportunity in Myanmar; the ability to raise money for the country, to create jobs, things will be much more sustainable in the long term, which is why the battle against the illegal wildlife trade is more an economic one than a conservation one.”