Photo credit: Keith Roper via Flickr/CC BY
There's some surprising news today out of Myanmar, the nation formerly known as Burma. The country, which is controlled by a brutal military regime, has nonetheless decided to created the largest tiger sanctuary in the world. With only 3,000 left in the wild, tigers are among the most endangered animals on the planet. This new reserve in Burma will span 8,500 square miles, and will protect at least 100 tigers -- that is, if the military junta running Burma can be trusted to maintain it. Here are the details.According to Panthera, the group responsible for lobbying the Myanmar government to open the preserve, the efforts to open the park began years ago: "In 2004, the Myanmar government designated 2,500 square miles of the Hukaung Valley as an inviolate wildlife sanctuary, based off of the first ever biological expedition of the area in 1999 led by Dr. Alan Rabinowitz." Rabinowitz is the CEO of Panthera, which has succeeded now in opening even more of the land as a wildlife reserve. Here's more from Panthera:
The designation protects some of the last expanses of closed forest in the Indo-Pacific region and is one of the most important ecosystems, including wetlands, for the long-term conservation of large mammals such as tigers, clouded leopards, and Asian elephants. Approximately 370 bird species, including the critically endangered Rufous-necked Hornbill, have been found in the region and of the current global estimate of 13,500 plant species, approximately 7,000 are found in the Hukaung Valley and nowhere else on the planet. "I have dreamt of this day for many years," said Rabinowitz.Wildlife biologists believe that as many as 100,000 tigers used to roam Asia alone -- that number is now down to a couple thousand at the most. While this appears to be a victory for tigers, only time will tell if the land is properly managed in a regime notorious for reneging on previous agreements and a capricious nature.
According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, there was evidently some opposition to Rabinowitz working with the regime at all, leveled by democracy activists who felt that cooperating with the junta served to validate its existence. Rabinowitz was undeterred. So while this is a momentary cause of celebration for the critically endangered big cats, let's not forget that the government that enabled it is still one of the most ruthless and oppressive in the world.