Crowd­fund­ing brings life-sav­ing wa­ter to Myan­mar's deer

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

Aherd of en­dan­gered deer wait un­der the shade of one of the sparse trees in this parched cen­tral Myan­mar land­scape, watch­ing as rangers dis­patch drink­ing wa­ter -- a life-sav­ing re­source funded by well­wish­ers across the coun­try.

Shwe Set­taw na­ture re­serve in Mag­way Di­vi­sion is home to the en­demic species of Eld's or golden deer. But their habi­tat lies in the coun­try's cen­tral dry zone, a low-ly­ing plain astride the Ir­rawaddy River where wa­ter short­ages are rife in the hot sea­son.

This year tem­per­a­tures have soared to a record 47 de­grees centi­grade. The sanc­tu­ary's 20-odd lakes and ponds -- a life­line for the deer, wild boar, jack­als, pea­cocks and other crea­tures -- have all dried up.

In one lake bed, a wa­ter depth-mea­sur­ing rod stands ma­rooned in the mid­dle of a mo­saic of cracked, arid earth.

Many of the park's es­ti­mated 1,000 deer started ven­tur­ing dan­ger­ously close to vil­lages out­side the re­serve, putting them­selves at risk of poach­ing, rangers say.

At the end of April, the park's dozen rangers started pool­ing their money to travel to a nearby river to col­lect wa­ter and re-fill a cou­ple of the scorched craters. But af­ter re­al­is­ing this was un­sus­tain­able they turned to Face­book for help.

- Peo­ple vs na­ture –

Do­na­tions poured in from as far away as Yangon, Man­dalay and Shan state in the north­east.

"Luck­ily, it re­ally cap­tured peo­ple's in­ter­est," ranger Thein Lwin tells AFP with a smile, adding that within a few days they had re­ceived over 1 mil­lion kyat ($650).

The sum is enough to pay for the petrol and fees needed to hire wa­ter-car­ry­ing tankers that take six daily trips to a small river some 15 kilo­me­tres away. Each tanker holds around 4,500 litres of wa­ter.

They have even stopped ac­cept­ing money on the as­sump­tion the fund will see them through to the mon­soon sea­son in the com­ing weeks.

In another sec­tion of the re­serve, a breed­ing pro­gramme for the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered Burmese star tor­toise faces sim­i­lar prob­lems.

"We lost some tor­toises be­cause of the ex­treme heat," says Steve Platt, a her­petol­o­gist with the World Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety (WCS).

"That doesn't hap­pen ev­ery year. Three or four -- we just found them dead," he says. But the plight of the park's fauna will not end when the rains ar­rive.

The sanc­tu­ary is the cen­tre of an on­go­ing con­flict be­tween con­ser­va­tion­ists and lo­cal peo­ple, some of Myan­mar's poor­est.

Around 40 vil­lages lie close to the re­serve -- most with­out elec­tric­ity -and many peo­ple en­ter to search for fire­wood.

Poach­ing is also a huge prob­lem in a coun­try where the il­le­gal trade of wildlife parts flour­ishes, due largely to the in­sa­tiable ap­petite from neigh­bour­ing China.

"We need more guard posts and more staff," the ranger says with a sigh. "The deer's fu­ture is at stake."

Photo: AFP

Deer in the dry lands of Myan­mar.

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