August 19, 2016

Last roar for Taninthayi Tigers?

Photo: Fauna & Flora International
Photo: Fauna & Flora International

THE Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation is planning to step up efforts to fight illegal wildlife trading in the country, following President U Htin Kyaw’s commitment to the protection the country’s resources and ecosystems in his speech yesterday at the commemoration of World Environment Day in Nay Pyi Taw.
“We have not been fighting the wildlife trade to the fullest extent due to a lack of staff. However, we will step up our efforts to combat the wildlife trade later,” said U Kyaw San Naing, director of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation to The Global New Light of Myanmar.
Myanmar has seen more cases involving the trade of elephant parts than other wildlife, he said, referring to more than 30 cases of wildlife trading involving elephants this year.
The cases of elephant-related trading were around 13 on average in previous years, according to the ministry.
“The fight against wildlife trading should be effective. Otherwise, it would just cause an increase in prices of animal parts in the illegal markets,” he added.
Meanwhile, tigers are on the brink of extinction in the wild, and the forests of southern Taninthayi are one of the last refuges for this species in Myanmar, according to Fauna & Flora International and the Myanmar Forestry Department, which launched a new initiative to protect this iconic species from extinction in the country’s south
Myanmar tigers are now at a critical crossroads, facing numerous threats to their survival. The chief threats are conversion of forests into plantations, the wildlife trade and hunting.
A workshop in Myeik Township on 26 May brought together government and non-government groups, local communities and businesspeople to identify priorities for the conservation of tigers in the far south of the country.
Tigers were once widespread in Myanmar, to the point that they were considered a serious risk to rural travellers in the 1800s, even close to what was then Rangoon. Current estimates for the number of the animals are plagued with a lack of systematic data, but recent official estimates put it at no more than 3,200 left in the wild across 14 ‘range states’.
While at one time tigers may have been at risk from reprisal killings from villagers defending their livestock or families, today the hunting is mostly driven by the illegal wildlife trade—a multi-million dollar industry fuelled by demand for meat, medicines, skins and other tiger products.
“There are strong links globally between wildlife crime and other organised criminal activities, and the theft of Myanmar’s natural and cultural heritage by organised gangs should clearly be a national security concern as well as a global conservation one,” said Mark Grindley, the Taninthayi Programme Manager from FFI.
Mr Grindley also said that over the past two years, FFI has had multiple encounters with Thai off-road groups making illegal incursions into the forests of southern Taninthayi for hunting.
The workshop, which was jointly hosted by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Myanmar Forestry Department, was also attended by an informal delegation from Thailand. Wildlife conservation experts shared some of their own experiences in combatting the illegal wildlife trade and took the opportunity to promote a model of public-private partnership from just over the border in Thailand’s Prachuap Kiri Khan Province.
The POWER Network, as it is known, brings many government and private bodies together to work toward the sustainable protection of watersheds and the promotion of community-based wildlife tourism in Kui Buri National Park, which directly borders Taninthayi Region.
Other presentations included wildlife values of the southern Taninthayi forests by FFI, the national tiger strategy by the Forestry Department, a wildlife consumption survey conducted recently by three groups of students from Myeik University, the results of village-based camera trapping by a Karen community near the Ngawun Reserve Forest, and an introduction to community-based conservation in the Kamonthwe area, east of Dawei, from a local community leader.
In his concluding remarks, Mr Grindley noted: “The government of Myanmar, international and local NGOs and many local groups and community members have shown through their actions and their attendance here today that they will no longer stand by as this noble and iconic species becomes extinct.”
“They have also shown a desire to work together to find solutions to this impending disaster,” he said, referring to a straw poll that indicated that the majority of attendees supported forming a multi-stakeholder group in the POWER Network mould to encourage cooperation.
“Only through joint efforts can we realistically hope to put an end to tiger destruction, and FFI stands alongside all those who are willing to join to the fight,” Mr Grindley added.


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