Kayin State: Tigers, leopards and elephants spotted in Southeast Asia’s last great wilderness

Camera trap photo of a tiger in northern Kayin State. Photo: KWCI
Camera trap photo of a tiger in northern Kayin State. Photo: KWCI

Six camera trap surveys set up by the Karen Wildlife Conservation Initiative (KWCI) in the hill forests of Northern Karen State have identified at least 31 mammals, including tigers, leopards and Asian elephants in an area previously inaccessible to biologists and conservationists for security and political reasons.

17 of the 31 species are categorized as Near Threatened, Vulnerable or Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The surveys were set up with financial support from WWF and other partners.

“It is incredibly rare to find such rich and diverse wildlife anywhere in the world today, but certainly in Southeast Asia,” said Clare Campbell, director of Wildlife Asia, the Australian conservation NGO that coordinates the KWCI.

“Thanks to the long-standing conservation efforts of the Karen people, this area is a refuge for the last tigers in the region, Asian elephants and so much more.”

kayin gaur

“Karen people have intricate knowledge of their forests and wildlife, which is directly responsible for the abundant wildlife in this region,” said Saw Sha Bwe Moo, a technical field expert for KWCI and lead author of the survey.

“However, as the peace process brings rapid economic development to Myanmar, we are seeing increased habitat destruction and wildlife poaching that have decimated much of the wilderness in other parts of Southeast Asia. We must act now if we are to protect this last great wilderness.”

According to the FAO Global Forest Resource Assessment, 2015, Myanmar had the world’s third highest annual net loss of forest area between 2010 and 2015, behind only Brazil and Indonesia.

Poaching in the region, driven by the multi-billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade, is also at critical levels. During the survey, multiple groups of poachers were caught on camera traps.

kayin elephant

“The illegal wildlife trade is rapidly emptying Myanmar’s forests, and proximity to the infamous Golden Triangle region makes it particularly vulnerable,” said Nick Cox, WWF-Myanmar conservation director.

“The illegal wildlife markets in Myanmar’s cities and along all its borders must be closed, and well-trained rangers are needed on the ground if Myanmar is to keep its incredible wildlife.”

The survey was carried out in four areas of Kayin State from December 2014 to July 2015. Other important species found included the Asiatic golden cat, sun bear and dhole.

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