Myanmar is one of the most beautiful and biodiverse countries in Southeast Asia. We are surrounded by lush green forest, deep blue ocean and rugged mountains that are home to many varieties of animal species, which are mostly able to live peacefully together with humans.
But Myanmar also faces striking conservation challenges and preserving our nature – especially forests and the species that depend on them has never been more difficult. Myanmar lost 7.445 million hectares (28,750 sq. miles) of forest between 1990 and 2010, according to research by the United Nations, and many areas are still threatened by deforestation, despite increased efforts to protect them.
In the heart of our land is a particular deep forest called Mahamyaing, meaning Shangri La. Situated in Sagaing Region, the forest covers 1,181 sq. km. Mahamyaing is home for many endangered mammals including 50-70 Asian elephants, clouded leopards and golden cats. Dhole (also known as Asiatic wild dog or red wolf) a highly social animal, live in large packs deep in this expansive forest.
There are many banteng too, also known as wild cattle, and guar – the tallest species of wild cattle in Southeast Asia. They are working-animals which have been domesticated in several places in Southeast Asia, but in Mahamyaing they remain wild and free. Serow, curious goat-like mammals that are used for the sign of Capricorn in zodiac astrology, are also native to this wonderful forest.
But at the boundary of the forest, where many villages are located, threats to the future of Mahamyaing are looming. Over recent years, many local people have extracted timber, bamboo and hunted inside the forest. But nowadays, the forest has also become a golden-chest for various logging businesses that are moving in.
Local people have also become involved in the illegal wildlife trade and extraction of timber and bamboo. Their daily income is high by doing such illegal activities and, lacking good alternatives, many are happy to work for these shady businessmen.
Moreover, even women and young adults have started to work for them. Loading wood or bamboo to trucks in exchange for a small payment. Sadly, many appear to not realize the value of their forest. Few in these villages advocate strongly for forest conservation.
New generations must be engaged with and educated about the importance of conservation, in order to help communities better understand and value sustainability, conservation and biodiversity.
That’s why the Forest Department and the Nature Wildlife Conservation Division are trying to protect the forest by setting up systematic approaches to conservation and effective protected area management. But it’s impossible without local people’s participation.
In order to achieve more local people’s involvement, Friends of Wildlife (FOW) continues to carry out activities that relate to community relations, education and engagement. Meetings with village authorities and community leaders for example, are arranged regularly to enable discussion of pressing issues and to find solutions. Local people here are starting to adapt their lifestyles to better accommodate the deep forest that surrounds them and sustains them.
Working with experts and the authorities, these communities will improve the ways they can protect their forest for their future generation.
This article was produced by MERN member Friends of Wildlife during a writing and communications workshop earlier this year, funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).