Cautionary tails: Learning from neighbours to counter species loss in Myanmar
MYANMAR is presented with a unique window of opportunity to combat species loss and habitat destruction, says a new report from the World Wildlife Federation.
Declining animal populations is an issue the world over, and Myanmar is poised to take on hard-learnt lessons from other countries in the region.
The species populations of vertebrate animals worldwide have already decreased by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012, according to WWF’s biennial 2016 “Living Planet” report.
“The most common threat to declining animal populations is the loss and degradation of habitat,” the report read. And it’s not just flora and fauna that suffer the impacts of environmental destruction. “Increasingly, people are victims of the deteriorating state of nature.”
Scientists suggest the earth has transitioned from the Holocene into a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene, which casts the future of myriad species into question – by and large as a result of human activities.
Yet as an inadvertent by-product of its years of isolation, large swathes of land in Myanmar remain verdant and untouched.
“Myanmar is uniquely positioned to avoid the mistakes of many of its neighbours,” country director of WWF Christy Williams said.
Myanmar’s forests contain a rich array of wildlife. However, environmental conservation consultant and founder of the Myanmar Green Network Daw Saw Mon Theint said this is increasingly under threat as large tracts are given over to business interests. Land use policies that permit the conversion of habitations into plantations have a profound impact on the country’s biodiversity, she says.
Tanintharyi Region is faced with major habitat loss due to a sharp increase in the amount of land devoted to palm oil plantations.
The long-term impacts of such policies are perhaps demonstrated best by fellow ASEAN nation Indonesia, where decades of palm oil cultivation and widespread illegal burning practices have caused untold environmental devastation and enormous emissions.
The leading cause of habitat destruction and overexploitation of wildlife is tied to human food production – both directly and indirectly.
This is something Myanmar can avoid, Ms Williams said. Bypassing polluting energy sources and moving straight to renewable options, along with enacting safeguards to ensure a sustainable private sector business sector, can protect the country’s unique ecosystems and biodiversity.
But Myanmar’s illegal logging problem – with Kachin State at its epicentre – continues to present a major concern, said Daw Saw Mon Theint.
Myanmar is the third-worst country in the world for deforestation rates, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. According to a Forest Resources Assessment, Myanmar’s forest cover was 46.96 percent in 2010. By 2015, it had fallen to 42.92pc.
Daw Saw Mon Theint also urges that the country’s burgeoning illegal wildlife trade also needs to be tackled in a meaningful way by the authorities.
WWF warns wildlife populations could decline by as much as 67pc by 2020, if constructive action is not taken.