Myanmar’s genocide has become lethal but tourism revenues fuel the nation’s wildlife

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims, hasn’t yet publicly condemned her country’s military for what activists consider the massacre of hundreds of civilians in June. As reporting continues to shed…

Myanmar’s genocide has become lethal but tourism revenues fuel the nation’s wildlife

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims, hasn’t yet publicly condemned her country’s military for what activists consider the massacre of hundreds of civilians in June.

As reporting continues to shed light on mass killings and other atrocities, some are questioning whether Suu Kyi is doing enough to protect the people in her country who have been excluded from citizenship for decades, and even more so for those who can’t board flights to the country without visas.

In her ancestral home of Kyauk Pyu, a key town in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, the tarmac at the main airport is covered with the sticky tar of jerry cans in a desperate attempt to prepare for the landing of endangered endangered elephants and other animals that take to the bridges across rivers.

Myanmar is one of the world’s most mountainous nations, home to some of its most imperiled wildlife, including tigers, the black-headed langur monkey and the mountain hare. At times, their entire communities live on a couple of square miles.

Photographer David Guttenfelder and I were invited by Nepal’s Wildlife Protection Group to see the lives of individual mountain hares and show how villagers and tourists work together to protect these animals from poachers who kill them as pets.

Some of the teams play cat and mouse with the would-be poachers, using rose petals to lure them to their backyards or hiding in bushes to wait for the poachers’ next attack.

There’s nothing really stopping poachers — the elephants aren’t actually targeted and the arrests of the poachers usually don’t get very far.

So communities typically take drastic measures to protect the animals, which run the gamut from mere companions to pets. Under the Rhino Habitat Project — started in 2011, and supported by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society — Nepal is helping support the development of more than 7,000 rhino ranches across the country.

But in the short term, local wildlife officials want to protect the humans from the dangerously powerful hounds used for hunting.

“We have seen a marked improvement in the protection of the wildlife over the last couple of years,” said Tarachand Pandey, the superintendent of Budhi Gandaki, one of the oldest wildlife districts in Nepal. “In our district, four rhinos died during that time. The most recent was an adult male that got mauled to death by the locals in late 2013.”

But humans are still the big threat to the majestic animals. This week, a pro-local wildlife activist was killed after trying to stop poachers from poaching the hounds that he manages in Kechsa. In 2013, his father was killed when villagers shot him after catching him trying to catch the hounds.

Fortunately, these wild animals are in a better shape than they used to be. The drug that can stop hunters in their tracks has been finding its way into the local economy and it’s gradually making it harder for poachers to slaughter the animals that contribute to nearly half of Nepal’s $1.2 billion tourism sector.

More than four decades ago, hippos were beheading people; today, the local community of people who live along the Nile River survive on their income from small tourism ventures that bring in locals and tourists to feed the animals.

They don’t get to keep the animals when they come back home, but they know their job is an essential one that they have to do no matter how often they get shot or harassed.

“At times, [the tourist] will suggest we play cards with the animals and make them love us,” said Sunil Teeku, a head constable at Budhi Gandaki’s wildlife patrol. “But I still fear being [shot] by the wild animals in the future.”

Leave a Comment