Myan­mar's pea­cocks los­ing their fight

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page -

EM­BRACED by kings and free­dom fighters alike, Myan­mar’s pea­cocks have long been a na­tional sym­bol of pride and re­sis­tance – but they are be­com­ing ever harder to spot in the wild.

Or­nithol­o­gist Thet Zaw Naing is wor­ried. Ev­ery year that goes by, Myan­mar’s na­tional bird be­comes a less fa­mil­iar sight.

“They al­ways walk on the ground and they sleep in trees at night,” he tells AFP.

“And be­fore they go to sleep, they al­ways cry ‘Oway Oway’. That’s why peo­ple can know eas­ily where they are and eas­ily cap­ture them.”

Decades ago the birds, with their bright green plumage and fa­mously os­ten­ta­tious male tail feath­ers, were ubiq­ui­tous.

But like so many of Myan­mar’s most iconic flora and fauna, ram­pant poach­ing and habi­tat loss un­der decades of un­ac­count­able junta rule has hit their num­bers hard.

For Myan­mar, the de­clin­ing pea­cock pop­u­la­tion is more than just a con­ser­va­tion tragedy – it’s a blow to the na­tional psy­che. The bird oc­cu­pies a lofty place in the coun­try’s cul­ture. For decades it was the of­fi­cial sym­bol of Burma’s last kings, the Kon­baung dy­nasty. Their monar­chs wore pea­cock in­signia on their robes and fa­mously sat atop the Pea­cock Throne un­til their rule was top­pled by Bri­tish colo­nial­ists.

Dur­ing his fight against the Bri­tish in the early 20th cen­tury, in­de­pen­dence hero Aung San – the fa­ther of democ­racy icon Aung San Suu Kyi – cre­ated a mag­a­zine named the Fight­ing Pea­cock.

Years later, Aung San Suu Kyi and her Na­tional League for Democ­racy adopted the same bird as their party em­blem in their long years of strug­gle against mil­i­tary rule.

When­ever protests broke out on the streets of Yangon, pea­cock flags could be seen flut­ter­ing above the crowds.

Now el­e­vated to the role of for­eign nin­is­ter and state coun­selor since her party swept to vic­tory in last year’s elec­tions, Suu Kyi de­liv­ers press con­fer­ences be­side visit­ing dig­ni­taries in front of an em­broi­dered pea­cock wall hang­ing.

But some worry the birds will soon only be vis­i­ble in­side his­tory books and at po­lit­i­cal ral­lies un­less ac­tion is taken.

Hav­ing once ranged from In­dia to In­done­sia, the green peafowl, as it is of­fi­cially known, is in se­vere de­cline.

The In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture cur­rently lists the species as en­dan­gered on their red list.

“It has un­der­gone a se­ri­ous de­cline and the only size­able re­main­ing pop­u­la­tions are found in dry forests in Cam­bo­dia, Myan­mar and west-cen­tral Viet­nam,” the IUCN says, adding pock­ets still per­sist in north­ern Thai­land, south­ern Laos, China’s Yun­nan prov­ince and on In­done­sia’s Java is­land.

It is be­lieved to be ex­tinct in Bangladesh, Malaysia, penin­sula Thai­land and In­dia – with the ex­cep­tion of a few in­di­vid­u­als oc­ca­sion­ally en­coun­tered in In­dia’s farnorth­east­ern Ma­nipur state bor­der­ing Myan­mar.

The Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion and Forestry in Nay Pyi Taw says the birds are pro­tected un­der the Wildlife Act of Myan­mar, which pro­hibits their cap­ture or killing.

But ac­cord­ing to wildlife ex­perts, the law is not prop­erly en­forced, and many peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas are un­aware of the pea­cock’s legally pro­tected sta­tus, poach­ing them for their eggs, meat and bright feath­ers.

Greater pub­lic aware­ness of the pea­cock’s plight, par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral ar­eas, will be crit­i­cal in bring­ing Myan­mar’s un­of­fi­cial na­tional an­i­mal back from the brink, says U Thet Zaw Naing.

“The most im­por­tant thing is to ed­u­cate the peo­ple about how th­ese pea­cocks are pre­cious for the peo­ple and how Myan­mar should be proud to have pea­cocks,” he said. –

Pho­tos: AFP

A male pea­cock (left) dis­plays his feath­ers at Hlawga Na­tional Park.

What will Myan­mar’s sym­bol be­come if the pea­cocks dis­ap­pear com­pletely?

To­day, the birds are ex­tinct across the re­gion. Myan­mar is one of the last places they can be found – more of­ten than not on flags.

Photo: EPA

The fight­ing cock has long been a sym­bol of Myan­mar, dat­ing back to Myan­mar’s last royal dy­nasty, the Kon­baungs.

Photo: EPA

Vil­lagers con­tinue to poach them for their feath­ers, eggs and meat.

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