YANGON—Aung La N Sang, the most celebrated cage fighter in Myanmar’s history, has been appointed by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Myanmar as its ambassador for fighting wildlife crime.
“The fight to protect wildlife and stop wildlife crime in our country is a fight that is close to my heart,” said the Kachin mixed martial arts fighter.
“Elephants, tigers, pangolins, bears, turtles and Burmese pythons…. they should be in the wild, in the forest, the mountain, the ocean, not in the market, said the One Championship middleweight and light-heavyweight world champion.
Aung La also welcomes the Yangon government’s ban on wildlife sales in the commercial capital, calling it “great news for wildlife.”
The 33-year-old fighter, known to his audience as “The Burmese Python,” was honored with a Male Athlete of the Year award at the One Championship Global Martial Arts Awards held in Singapore earlier this month.
His fight with Japanese fighter Ken Hasegawa also won the Bout of the Year award.
“The Government alone or our organization alone is not capable of fighting wildlife crime. It is important that the public participates with awareness, so we need to seek the support of celebrities. We have ambassadors in other sectors, and now we are reinforced with Ko Aung La. He is interested in doing this and accepted willingly so we appointed him,” said Ko Ye Min Thwin of WWF-Myanmar.
He said that huge challenges lie in fighting wildlife crimes as Myanmar neighbors China which is home to the world’s biggest black market for wildlife trade.
The Myanmar authorities destroyed hundreds of seized elephant tusks, pangolin scales and other animal parts, worth a total of $1.3 million on the black market, in the capital city of Naypyitaw in the first week of October.
There are over 40 protected areas in Myanmar and 19 more have been earmarked for designation as protected areas. Those areas include natural parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserves.
From April 2016 through September this year, police handled 140 cases of wildlife smuggling and took action against 284 criminals.
Meanwhile, 108 elephants were poached from 2010 through September this year, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.
“In 2017, an elephant was killed almost every week. The elephant population in Myanmar is now less than 2,000,” said U Nyi Nyi Kyaw, director of the government’s forestry department.
Besides poaching, there have been reports of smuggling entire elephants, he said. The forestry department, in cooperation with home affairs ministry, has increased patrols in Yangon, Bago and Irrawaddy regions where poaching rings are rampant.
The trading of wildlife has been criminalized in Myanmar since 1994 but there have been problems with law enforcement. In May this year, Myanmar’s national legislature passed the Protection of Biodiversity and Conservation Areas Law.
The law carries a minimum of three to a maximum of ten year’s imprisonment plus a fine for hunting and illegal trade of wildlife protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).