WILD ANIMALS IN MYANMAR

WILD ANIMALS OF MYANMAR

Myanmar has a wide variety of ecosystems: plains, mountains, forests, wetlands, coastal and marine ecosystems. The country is rich in resources and enjoys an unusually great diversity of flora and fauna. Forests and wetlands including mangroves, swamp forest, lakes, marshes and seas provide a natural habitat for a large variety of biological species. Myanmar’s rivers, numerous steams, creeks, lakes and seas also provide home to a large variety of fresh water and marine fish, shrimps and prawns species.

Burma has some 1709 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Center. Of these, 4.7 percent are endemic and 5.9 percent are threatened. Burma is home to at least 7000 species of vascular plants, of which 15.3 percent are endemic.

Myanmar has its share of pests too. It is notorious for its rats and cockroaches. Patrons at fine hotels used complain to the management about bats hanging from the ceiling. Huge water bugs live on boats that journalists Alexander Frater wrote, seemed “as large as a lobster." Some Burmese and Thais eat these bugs. Grasshoppers jump into window of trains. Huge masses of insects swarming around the lights on ferry boats. The worlds' largest mosquito is reportedly found on the Irrawaddy near Prome.

The red panda lives in the mountain forests from Nepal to northern Burma to central China. The surviving numbers: about 2,500. There used to be thousands of monkeys long the shores of the Irrawaddy but the army shot them all for food.

On the rats of Rangoon, Paul Theroux wrote in “The Great Railway Bazaar”: “Four enfeebled, scabby rats, straight off the pages of La Peste, tottered out and looked around. I stamped my foot. They moved back into the hedge; and now everyone in the cafe was staring at me. It happened twice. I drank quickly and left, and glancing back saw the rats emerge once more and sniff at the legs of the chair where I had been sitting.” At the train station Rangoon, “I saw that outside splashings and pools of excrement had stained the tracks and a litter of crumpled newspapers—The Working People's Daily—a bright yellow. A rat crept over to the splashed paper and nibbled, then tugged; two more rats, mottled with mange, licked, tugged, and hopped in the muck. Another splash, and the rats withdrew; they returned, gnawing. There was a hawker's voice, a man selling Burmese books with bright covers. He shouted and walked briskly, not stopping to sell, simply walking alongside the train, crying out. The rats withdrew again; the hawker, glancing down, lengthened his stride and walked on, his heel yellow. Then the rats returned. [Source: Paul Theroux, The Atlantic, November 1, 1971]

See Indo-Burma Hotspot

Source: Alan Rabinowitz of the Wildlife Conservation Society is an expert on animals in Myanmar.

Myanmar's Military Junta Opens New Zoo in New Capital

In March 2008, Associated Press, reported: “Myanmar's military junta opened a new zoo in the country's remote administrative capital, saying it hopes the facility will become a tourist attraction. The Zoological Garden in Naypyitaw features some 400 animals – including elephants, monkeys, birds, rhinos and tigers – transported from Myanmar's two other zoos in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay. It also features white lions, which were a gift from neighboring China. [Source: Associated Press, March 26, 2008]

“The zoo could be a recreational place not only for locals but also for foreign tourists,” said Lt. Gen. Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, the junta's Secretary One, or fifth-ranking official, at the opening ceremony. Among the zoo's attractions are penguins, which are housed in an ice den built at a cost of more than $200,000. Most animals, however, are kept outside where temperatures can rise to 104 degrees. Critics have expressed concern that the 612-acre zoo lacks the infrastructure and lush vegetation that most of its animals need to survive.

Endangered Animals and Newly Discovered Species in Myanmar

In 1997, Alan Rabinowitz, the director of science and exploration for the Wildlife Conservation Society, in New York City, had made a quick trip through the area, discovering a new species of deer, the diminutive leaf muntjac, which is the smallest member of the deer family. He helped the Forest Ministry establish a national park around Hkakabo Razi.

Hukawng Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (near India in northwest Myanmar) is one of the remotest places in Myanmar and home to some the last large concentrations of wild life in Southeast Asia. Located between the Samgpang and Kumon mountains, it is has hardly any people living in and is virtually void of roads and villages. Much of the travel in the area is done on foot or by boat on the Tanai and Turung Rivers. Tanai is the largest town near the valley.

Among the animals found here are tigers, clouded leopard, golden cat, Asiatic black bear, elephants, macaques, gibbons, great hornbills, green peafowl, barking deer, samar deer, and dhole. A survey of animals in the early 2000s estimated that “probably fewer than a hundred tigers remain in the valley.” The three ethnic groups that dominate the region are the Kachin who live in the lowlands and the Naga and Lisu who live in the highlands. For a long time the areas was controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Hukawang Valley Wildlife Sanctuary was established in April 2001. It covers about 2,500 square miles. Hunting is banned but goes on anyway. There are plans to add 5,500 square miles to the sanctuary, tripling it size, making it the largest tiger refuge in the world. In this area tiger hunting would be banned but the hunting of other animals for food would be allowed in “exclusion zones.”

Animals such as tigers and leopard are hunted to supply body parts for the Chinese medicine market. Hunters are paid $8 for a bear foot which can be sold for hundreds and even thousands of dollars at restaurants in China. The major focus of conservation is not to get people to stop hunting for food but to get them stop hunting for profit. Hunters are encouraged not only to stop hunting tigers but also to stop hunting tiger prey such as sambar deer and wild boar, many of which have been killed to supply meat that feed an influx of gold miners to the area.

The Hukawang Valley is sometimes called the Valley of Death after the number of Allied soldiers that died here during the building of the Ledo Road in World War II. After the war much of the road was quickly reclaimed by jungle .Even though the KIA signed a peace treaty with the Myanmar government in 1994 the group refused to give up its arms and retained bases in the jungles in the valley. An effort is being made to convince local tribal people and miners to raise livestock so they rely less on wild game for meat. [Source: Alan Rabinowitz, National Geographic, April 2004]

Illegal Animal Trade in Myanmar

Markets with wild animals—where animals smugglers are rarely caught of punished—can be found in Myanmar and are thriving in remote areas where there are forests and jungles with wild animals. In markets in northern Myanmar you can sometimes see body parts from tigers, gaur, clouded leopard and other endangered animals.

During a raid in the 1990s on four restaurants that serve dishes made with exotic animals in Yangon, authorities seized hundreds of endangered animals, including four pangolins and one python as well as 68 fresh-water turtles, 18 tortoises, two monitor lizards, and 283 snakes, including 252 vipers and 30 cobras. Pigeons and ducks were also seized.

Myanmar signed up in 1997 to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which places partial or total bans on sales of the most threatened species, including bears and big cats. Reuters reported: Experts say the junta that has run Myanmar years may not be as oblivious to wildlife protection as might be expected. In 2004, the junta did set aside a stretch of jungle the size of Vermont in the isolated Hukawng Valley to become the world's largest tiger reserve. However many of remote areas where wild animals live are not controlled by the government. In in the Golden Triangle hinterlands of eastern Shan State, the junta exercises little authority—or in Mong La, an autonomous fiefdom run by an ethnic Wa-Chinese warlord and drug baron called Sai Lin.

Myanmar Supplies Wildlife for China’s Food and Medicine Market

Much of the poaching and wild animal trade in Myanmar is to supply the Chinese market. Reuters reported: “If the market of Mong La is anything to go by, the remaining wild elephants, tigers and bears in Myanmar's forests are being hunted down slowly and sold to China. Nestled in hills in a rebel-controlled enclave on the Chinese border, the "Las Vegas in the jungle" casino town is clearly branching out from narcotics and prostitution into the illegal wildlife business. Besides row upon row of fruit, vegetables and cheap plastic sandals, the market offers a grisly array of animal parts, as well as many live specimens, to the hundreds of Chinese tourists who flock across the border each day. [Source: Reuters, September 3, 2007 ///]

“Bear paws and gall bladders, elephant tusks and chunks of hide, tiger and leopard skins, as well as big cat teeth and deer horn are all openly on display next to crudely welded cages of live macaques, cobras, Burmese star tortoises and pangolins. The live creatures, some of them on the IUCN Conservation Union's "Red List" of critically endangered species, are destined for the cooking pots of exotic animal restaurants in China's neighboring Yunnan province, or further afield. Food stalls in the market openly advertise dishes of pangolin or black bear. The body parts -- some of which will not be real, given the ease with which a pig bladder can be passed off as that of a bear -- will either be ground up for traditional medicine, worn as amulets or simply hung on the wall as trophies. ///

“The 100,000 yuan ($13,250) price tag on a tiger skin stretched across the wall of one Mong La shop shows what cross-border police efforts such as Southeast Asia's Wildlife Enforcement Network, launched in 2005, are up against. Most of the specimens come from the former Burma's still vast tracts of virgin forest, wildlife experts believe, although some will have come from as far away as India to be trafficked into China by well-organized criminal gangs. "Burma is being raped in terms of its natural resources -- trees, plants and animals. They've got to get a hold of the situation quickly before it becomes a barren ground," said Steven Galster, Bangkok-based director of the Wildlife Alliance. "There's a huge flow of illegal wildlife going into China, through whatever porous border points there are. This is definitely one of them, mainly because the Burmese government just doesn't have a handle on the situation." ///

“Armed gangs under the control of the Wa drug lord Sai Lin are reportedly getting involved in the illegal animal trade. "These gangs are very big and have members stretching from Indonesia and Malaysia to Thailand and right up into China," said Aroon Promphan, a captain in the special wildlife crime division of the Thai police. "They tend to be armed and there's still political influence in countries like China and Myanmar." The Chinese government has stepped up efforts in recent years to stamp out the domestic wildlife trade and educate people about the environmental perils of stripping forests of their native flora and fauna.However, the appetite for exotica remains and, partly as a result of the crackdown, the trade has intensified beyond China's borders. "The situation in China is still bad, although the awareness among Chinese citizens and the government is much higher than it was before," Galster said. “ ///

With the Drug Trade Gone Some Turn to Illegal Animal Trade

Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “Mong La, the main city in the eastern autonomous part of Burma, was once a haven for poppy fields and methamphetamine labs. Under foreign pressure, however, Mong La authorities largely wiped out poppy cultivation. But eradication also wiped out the livelihood of thousands of people. Authorities came up with an innovative twist on alternative livelihood by converting Mong La into a Burmese Las Vegas, with casinos and nightclubs frequented by Chinese tourists. But a few months ago, the Chinese government abruptly closed the border, and business in Mong La collapsed. In the surrounding rural areas, many people have food security for only eight months a year. It is only a matter of time before the pressure to grow poppies again becomes irresistible. [Source: Vanda Felbab-Brown, International Herald Tribune, March 24, 2006; Vanda Felbab-Brown is a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government *=*]

“Meanwhile, whatever is left of life around Mong La is fed by another illicit trade — this one of wildlife. Recently in the main market, terrapin turtles, monkeys, rodents, and birds were crammed into tiny cages, all for sale for a few dollars. So were bear claws, dried genitals from civets, and antlers from deer. A female accipiter hawk was advertised for $4. The bird was barely alive, unfed for several days, and when its owner yanked it out of its cage, it became apparent that its leg was broken and it would probably die within a matter of days. When I asked the seller whether she knew that she was doing something illegal, she reduced the price to $3. *=*

“Although some of these unfortunate animals supply the domestic market in Burma, many go to China and elsewhere in Asia for food consumption as well as homemade medicines and good luck charms. Many of the species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, but the local authorities in Mong La, the Burmese government, and China have not shown much of an interest in enforcing the prohibitions. *=*

“For the desperately poor villagers in the hill areas, the wildlife trade now represents the only source of income. Cutting through tropical forest, the road from Kentung to Mong La is often dotted by boys and men with slingshots hunting for birds. The ecological impact of hunting and poaching is smaller overall than the environmental destruction caused by other human activities, such as deforestation. Paradoxically, the direct consequence of drug eradication in Burma has been a rampant increase in deforestation as an alternative source of livelihood, fed by demand for timber in China. Vast tracks of hills along Burma's border with China have been completely stripped of trees, collapsing entire ecosystems. *=*

“Yet for certain endangered species, such as rhinos and tigers, hunting represents a more imminent source of demise. Hornbills have been killed out in parts of Burma. Hill mynas, laughing thrushes, and other songbirds now decorate households in China and Indonesia, but no longer sing in the wild. A commitment on the part of governments in the region to uphold environmental treaties would help many critically endangered species. The United States should pressure countries to crack down on illicit wildlife trade. However, it is difficult to monitor large forests, and interdiction efforts generally capture only a small portion of illicit flows. A potentially greater impact would come from a concerted effort — both by governments and environmental nongovernment organizations — to dry up the demand around the world for wildlife as exotic food, medicine, and pets. *=*

“Such an effort is not simply a matter of protecting endangered species, but also one of health protection. SARS is believed to have spread in China by hunting and consuming wild civets. Similarly, capturing wild birds and keeping them in close proximity to chickens and other domestic animals greatly increases the chance of spreading diseases, including avian flu. A serious educational campaign that tiger testicles and eagle eyes will not cure impotence or blindness and that wildlife should remain wild would not only help save the planet's vanishing biodiversity, but would also limit the spread of devastating infectious diseases among people and wildlife. *=*

White Elephants

Among the Thais and other peoples of Southeast Asia, white elephants are regarded as symbols of power and fertility. According to Buddhist lore the Buddha’s mother Queen Mahamaya dreamed of white baby elephant at the conception of Lord Buddha. The discovery of white elephants in the wild is a major event that causes a big stir in the countries of Southeast Asia. This is stark contrast to the West where the expression “white elephant” describes an expensive but useless thing.

White elephants are regarded as the most auspicious of all animals in Laos, Thailand, Burma and Cambodia as far back as anyone can remember. They have been sought after and the object of envy. Kings added possession of them to their titles. Great empires have gone to war over them.

The royal "white elephants" in Thailand are in fact are pinkish brown or with some whitish markings. They are often difficult to distinguish from normal elephants. Only one looks genuinely pale. The others look like normal elephants. Their proper name is chang samkan, meaning “important” or “significant” elephant. Most are not albinos, which are usually whitish beige. Rare White Elephant Captured in 2010

In August 2010, Associated Press reported: “Myanmar's ruling junta threw a lavish welcome ceremony for a rare white elephant, a traditional symbol of power and prosperity, which was transported from the jungle to the country's remote capital, state media reported. The 38-year-old female elephant was recently captured in the jungles of northwestern Myanmar and transported by boat and truck to Naypyitaw, where it was given the name Bhaddavati, or "One Who is Endowed With Goodness," in a formal naming ceremony, the Myanmar Ahlin newspaper reported. [Source: AP, August 10, 2010]

Top military leaders greeted the 7-foot, 4-inch (2.2-meter) elephant when it arrived in Naypyitaw and sprinkled the beast with scented water during a ceremony at the Uppatasanti Pagoda, a replica of the famed Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the former capital and biggest city in Myanmar. The white elephant marched in a parade of other elephants and circled the pagoda, where religious sermons were delivered for its safety and well-being, the newspaper said. The white elephant will be housed in an enclosure at the foot of the temple.

Bhaddavati is the fourth white elephant captured and held in captivity in Myanmar in recent years. The other three are kept at a special park in Yangon, where they live in an enclosure with spiraled pavilions, a manmade waterfall, ponds and trees. White elephants, actually albinos, have for centuries been revered in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and other Asian nations. They were normally kept and pampered by monarchs and considered a symbol of royal power and prosperity. The elephants are not necessarily white. They can look similar to other elephants except for certain features such as fair eyelashes and toenails, light-colored hair or a reddish hue to the skin.

Tigers in Myanmar

Myanmar is thought to possess the largest number of wild tigers after India. In 2004, Myanmar set aside a stretch of jungle the size of Vermont in the isolated Hukawng Valley to become the world's largest tiger reserve.

An estimated 50 to 100 tigers were killed ever year in Myanmar, during the 1980s. Many were killed by poachers to supply the Chinese traditional medicine trade. The bones from a single tiger can earn a hunter more money than he can expect to earn from working a regular job for more than a decade. In the 1980s, at some Burmese markets, tiger skins sold for $5 a square inch and a tiger rib could be purchased for $4.50.

New Monkey Discovered in Myanmar: the Myanmar Snub-Nosed Monkey

Jeremy Hance wrote in mongabay.com, “Hunters' reports have led scientists to discover a new species of monkey in the northern forests of Myanmar. Discovered by biologists from the Myanmar Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association with support from primatologists with Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the People Resources and Biodiversity Foundation, the strange looking primate is a member of the snub-nosed monkey family, adding a fifth member to this unmistakably odd-looking group of Asian primates. However, the species survives in only a small single population, threatened by Chinese logging and hunting. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, October 26, 2010]

Described in the American Journal of Primatology, the new monkey, dubbed the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri), was only discovered after researchers heard reports from hunters of a strange monkey with upturned nostrils and prominent lips. It is known locally as mey nwoah,or 'monkey with an upturned face'. Locals have an easy time finding the species, since, according to them, it sneezes whenever it rains. Rainwater collects on the monkey's upturned noses causing them to sneeze. To combat this, the monkeys spend their rainy days with heads tucked between legs.

The new primate is especially notable for being the only snub-nosed monkey known in Myanmar. The other four snub-nosed monkey species are found in parts of China and Vietnam. Frank Momberg, FFI’s Regional Program Development Coordinator in the Asia Pacific and co-author of the paper, told mongabay.com that this new species proves "snub-nosed monkeys must have had a much largest distribution in China and adjacent areas in the past," adding that "[the new species] is most closely related to the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey. However, the two species are morphologically very distinct and are now separated by two major species barriers, the Salween and the Mekong River."

National Geographic reported: Based on talks with the Lisu hunters, scientists estimate that only about 300 of these monkeys remain—few enough to qualify R. strykeri for "critically endangered" status on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. The discovery of a new monkey in Myanmar proves just how little we know about the country's wildlife according to Momberg. "There is plenty of more species to be discovered [in Myanmar], even mammal species. Myanmar is a priority country for biodiversity conservation with currently the second highest deforestation rate in Asia after Indonesia."

First Photographs of the Myanmar Snub-Nosed Monkey

In 2012, mongabay.com reported, a remote camera trap took the first ever photo of the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey. No scientist has ever seen a living individual and the monkey's life is obscured by the little-explored forests of northern Myanmar (also known as Burma). Just setting the camera traps in April of last year proved incredibly difficult with the expedition battling both snow and rain. The species is only known from a carcass killed by a local hunter."These images are the first record of the animal in its natural habitat," said Ngwe Lwin, a native to Myanmar, who first recognized that the primate may be a new species. "It is great to finally have photographs because they show us something about how and where it actually lives." [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, January 10, 2012]

"We were dealing with very tough conditions in a remote and rugged area that contained perhaps fewer than 200 monkeys," explains photographer Jeremy Holden, who led the team. "We didn’t know exactly where they lived, and had to rely on information gathered from hunters; I didn’t hold out much hope." Still a month after setting up the camera traps, the scientists had the first photographic evidence of a living Myanmar snub-nosed monkey, including family groups. "We were very surprised to get these pictures," said biologist Saw Soe Aung. "It was exciting to see that some of the females were carrying babies—a new generation of our rarest primate."

While the photos may not be award-winners, Holden says they bring to life the scarcity of the new primate. "The images are poor quality compared to what we are now used to seeing from wildlife photographers, but this somehow examplifies the fact that these monkeys are rare, mysterious, and on the brink," he says.

Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: “Scientists in China have located a second population of the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey. Long Yongcheng, scientist with the Nature Conservancy in China, told the China Daily that his team have discovered 50-100 Myanmar snub-nosed monkeys in the Gaoligong Mountain Natural Reserve near the border with Myanmar in Yunnan Province. Chinese scientists were able to photograph and even videotape the species. But it was the monkey's scat and fur that proved it was the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey: DNA tests showed a 98.2 percent match with the species in Myanmar. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, May 16, 2012]

Protecting the Myanmar Snub-Nosed Monkey

National Geographic reported that soon after the first known specimen of the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey was shown to scientists he hunters that killed it ate it. One hunter told Frank Momberg, FFI's Asia-Pacific development director, they hunt them in the rainy season in the rainy season because: “ It's much easier to find them'" due to the sound. "Hunters hunt them more often in the rainy season, because they are much easier to locate—normally they're pretty quiet,” he said.

Jeremy Hance wrote in mongabay.com: Researchers believe only 260-330 individuals survive of the new species, which would rank it as Critically Endangered according to IUCN Red List standards. Unfortunately, the new species faces a large variety of threats. "Snub-nosed monkey get frequently trapped in traps laid out for bears. Local hunters also use shotguns. Until 8 years ago hunting was primarily for subsistence use only. Since Chinese logging roads are moving closer, hunting is now increasingly supplying bushmeat for local logging and dam construction camps, as well as feeding into the wildlife trade to China," Momberg says. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, October 26, 2010; January 10, 2012]

Snub-nosed monkeys are imperiled by hunting and trapping, but it may be logging that ultimately does them in. In 2010 Frank Momberg, FFI’s Regional Program Development Coordinator in the Asia Pacific, told mongabay.com that hunting in the remote region had recently moved beyond subsistence only: with Chinese logging roads infiltrating the area there has been a rise in commercial bushmeat hunting. At the time, Momberg also warned that the logging roads were expected to move into Myanmar snub-nosed monkey territory by 2011. Myanmar has one of world's the highest deforestation rates, which is at least partly driven by China's rising demand for commodities. Between 1990 and 2010, Myanmar lost 19 percent of its forest cover, or around 7,445,000 hectares, an area larger than Ireland.

"By next year Chinese logging companies will have moved into the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey range, which will cause serious degradation of their habitat and increase hunting pressure," Momberg says. Saving the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey will require quick work on many different issues, according to Momberg. First, the Chinese government must "crackdown on illegal Chinese logging in the area" and "step-up law enforcement of CITES regulations by Chinese customs officers to reduce trans-border illegal wildlife trade."

A protected area should be established in the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey's range, a recommendation already given by the China Power Investment Corporation, which is building a dam in Myanmar. In addition, conservationists must work quickly with local people to minimize hunting and trapping, as well as provide income. Momberg recommends that conservationists "develop a community-based conservation program for the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey range, involving all surrounding villagers in the conservation initiative. Employ local hunters as species guardians and provide alternative livelihoods for forest dependent communities."

Cobras and Other Snakes in Myanmar

Many king cobras, which are used by snake charmers, are found in the Mt. Popa region.

Burma is the home of numerous cobras and vipers. It leads the world in snakebite deaths. The poisonous banded krait and other snakes are offered at restaurants in Thein Gyi market. The Chinese in Burma are particularly fond of snake, which they believes increase the male libido. [Source: Joel Swerdlow, National Geographic, July 1995]

Burmese Pythons

Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia and can live to be 25 years old. Sometimes kept as a pet, they reach lengths of 6½ meters (21 feet) and achieve the thickness of a telephone poll. Burmese pythons are known to feed on almost any living creatures. They have been observed eating a full-grown deer and alligators

Burmese pythons are well camouflaged in the wild with patterns of interlocking, dark brown splotches on a buff or gray background. The coloration varies from area to area but the “arrowhead” markings on the top of the head are always present. In drier parts of their range the sometimes estivate (like hibernation except in a hot place).

Females are larger than males. They usually lay 20 to 55 eggs in tree hollows or burrows in the ground. They regulate the temperature of their eggs by trembling their muscles to generate heat. If necessary they do thise until the eggs hatch.

A full grown Burmese python feeds o mammals and birds and has no natural predators. Tigers, leopards and pythons all tend to leave each other alone Sometimes Indian python and Burmese python are regarded as the same species. Large numbers of Burmese pythons have taken over the Florida Everglades. Despite this these pythons are endangered in many parts of their home range in India and Southeast Asia.

Myanmar Snake Scientist Killed by a Snake

Joe Slowinski, a curator of herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences, had such a strong bond with Myanmar it killed. Jamie James wrote in the Natural History magazine, “In eleven trips beginning in 1997, Slowinski led expeditions throughout the country. To biologists, he is probably best known for his identification, with herpetologist Wolfgang Wüster of Bangor University in Wales, of the first new species of cobra to be described since 1922: Naja mandalayensis, the Burmese spitting cobra. Slowinski also cofounded, with the Smithsonian Institution's George R. Zug, the Myanmar Herpetological Survey, one of the country's few stable scientific institutions. [Source: Jamie James, Natural History magazine, June 2008]

Late in the summer of 2001, Slowinski led an expedition into Burma's extreme north, in the foothills of the Himalayas near the frontier with China, to conduct the first large-scale survey of the region's life-forms. On September 12, while the world was reeling from the attacks on America, Slowinski died from the bite of a many-banded krait, Bungarus multicinctus, the deadliest land serpent in Asia. He was only thirty-eight. It was a tragic loss to science and an exemplary tale of grace under pressure. A few hours after the bite, when Slowinski could no longer breathe on his own, his colleagues began mouth-to-mouth respiration. They kept him alive that way for more than twenty-four hours, waiting for a helicopter rescue mission that came too late.

Putao, a small district capital in the north of Burma, to the village of Rat Baw, about thirty miles from the Chinese border, is where he died. Slowinski's expedition was the first full-scale international scientific venture to the region.

New 'Bony-tongue' Fish Discovered in Myanmar

In May 2012, mongabay.com reported: “A new species of arowana, a highly valued aquarium fish, has been described from southern Myanmar. The description is published in the journal Aqua. The arowana, which is named Scleropages inscriptus, comes from the Tenasserim or Tananthayi River basin on the Indian Ocean coast of peninsular Myanmar. According to Tyson Roberts, the ichthyologist who described the species, Scleropages inscriptus is distinguished from the closely-related Asian arowana (Scleropages formosus) by the maze-like markings on its scales and facial bones. Like zebra, each fish is believed to have a unique pattern. [Source: mongabay.com, May 18, 2012]

Scleropages inscriptus is the first awowana recorded in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), but according to Practical Fishkeeping, the fish has been known to fish hobbyists in Thailand for roughly a decade.Despite their large size and aggressive demeanor, arowana are popular aquarium fish. Asian species with distinctive coloration are particularly prized as "feng shui" fish believed to bring good luck. Some arowana may fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction.Their popularity has lead to some species being overexploited. This, together with ongoing destruction of their rainforest habitat, has led conservationists to restrict the trade in some arowana species.

Irrawaddy Dolphins

Irrawaddy dolphins are found in the Mekong River in Laos and Cambodia, the Mahakam River in Kalimantan in Indonesia, the Padma River in Bangladesh, the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, and the Yangtze in China. They were once found on the Chao Praya River, which flows through Bangkok, but haven’t been seen there in decades. The Yangtze river dolphin is considered to be an Irrawaddy dolphin.

River dolphins are found in several rivers in Asia as well as the Amazon basin in South America. They range in size from five to eight feet in length. They are blueish grey in color and can survive in both freshwater and saltwater but prefers freshwater. They are shy, slow swimming. They have very long snouts lined with teeth that they seem willing to use in defense, unlike most dolphins. They swim in small groups with two or three individuals

Mark Jenkins wrote in National Geographic: River dolphins parted company with its oceanic ancestors about 15 million years ago, during the Miocene epoch. Sea levels were higher then, large parts of the mainland areas where river dolphins now reside may have been flooded by shallow, more or less brackish water. When this inland sea retreated, some scientists have hypothesized, river dolphins remained in various river basin, evolving into striking creatures that bear little resemblance to our beloved Flipper.[Source: Mark Jenkins, in National Geographic, June 2009]

See Separate Article RIVER DOLPHINS IN ASIA: GANGES, MEKONG, IRRAWADDY AND YANGTZE SPECIES AND SUBSPECIES factsanddetails.com

Using Irrawaddy Dolphins to Catch Fish

Kira Salak wrote in National Geographic, “The local fishermen are a bit more used to outsiders. A few scientists have recently come to the tiny village to witness an unusual ritual: using dolphins to help catch fish. To San Lwin, 42, a fisherman who shows me the practice the following morning, there is nothing remarkable about this. His father taught him to fish with dolphins when he was 16; the practice has been passed down for generations. Lwin's face, bronzed and creased from the sun, expresses a sort of reverence as he studies the silver waters for sight of a dolphin fin. "If a dolphin dies," he says, "it's like my own mother has died." [Source: Kira Salak, National Geographic, May 2006 \\\]

“We reach the area of the river where Lwin says the dolphins congregate. Classified as critically endangered, only about 70 Irrawaddy dolphins are left in the river that gives them their name. Lwin and the other men tap small, pointed sticks against the sides of their canoes and make high-pitched cru-cru sounds. Several gray forms, gleaming in the sunlight, arch through the water toward us. One with a calf by her side spits air loudly through her blowhole. "Goat Htit Ma!" Lwin yells, pointing at her and smiling. "She's calling to us!" Goat Htit Ma has been fishing with them for 30 years, Lwin says. \\\

“The fishermen splash their paddles to tell the dolphins they'd like to fish together. One dolphin separates from the group and begins swimming back and forth in large semicircles. It submerges again, reappearing less than ten feet (three meters) from our canoe, its tail waving with frantic urgency. Lwin winds up and tosses a lead-weighted net over the spot where the dolphin has shown its tail. The net spreads in the air like a great parachute, quickly sinking beneath the water. As Lwin slowly pulls it in, numerous silver fish flap in the strings. Lwin says the dolphins help themselves to any fish that escape the nets. \\\

“We are following the dolphins upriver when we pass some gill-net fishermen camped along the shore. This is one of the biggest threats to the Irrawaddy dolphin: Long nets are stretched across sections of the river to catch anything and everything that passes by—including dolphins.

The fishermen call to us. "Do you want to see a big fish?" they ask. They produce a six-foot (two-meter) long nga maung-ma, or catfish, its head a foot and a half (a half meter) wide, its great whiskers three feet long (one meter). The orange-and-white body, dotted with black spots, glows in the sunlight, a masterpiece of creation. Tomorrow they'll take it to Mandalay and sell it for a small fortune: 45,000 kyat or 55 dollars—about a quarter of the average Burmese's yearly income. As we begin paddling after the dolphins again, I ask Lwin to wait. \\\

"I'd like to buy the catfish," I say. The gill-net men laugh at the idea, but when I show them the 45,000 kyat, they hand over the fish. My plan is to reach the deep channel on the opposite bank so I can set it free. For centuries, Buddhist monks living along the river have cherished these giant catfish; at the monastery near Thabeikkyin, monks told me they hand-feed giant catfish during the rainy season. And now Lwin, a Buddhist, eagerly embraces my plan to free the fish, noting the karmic merit I will accrue. But my sudden desire to save the fish's life is a simple matter: I just don't want that great orange fellow to die. \\\

Irrawaddy River Shark

The Irrawaddy river shark (Glyphis siamensis) is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae, known only from a single museum specimen originally caught at the mouth of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. A plain gray, thick-bodied shark with a short rounded snout, tiny eyes, and broad first dorsal fin, the Irrawaddy river shark is difficult to distinguish from other members of its genus without anatomical examination. Virtually nothing is known of its natural history; it is thought to be a fish-eater with a viviparous mode of reproduction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed this species as Critically Endangered, as its distribution is extremely limited and suffers heavy fishing pressure and habitat degradation. [Source: Wikipedia]

The only known Irrawaddy river shark was collected in the 19th century and described as Carcharias siamensis by Austrian ichthyologist Franz Steindachner, in Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien (volume 11, 1896). However, subsequent authors doubted the validity of this species, regarding it as an abnormal bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), until in 2005 shark systematist Leonard Compagno recognized it as distinct member of the genus Glyphis.

The Irrawaddy river shark is found in the delta of the Irrawaddy River near Yangon, Myanmar, apparently inhabiting brackish water in a large, heavily silt-laden river lined with mangrove forests. The sole Irrawaddy river shark specimen is a 60 cm (24 in) long immature male, suggesting an adult length of 1–3 m (3–10 ft). Like other river sharks, its body is robustly built with a high back that slopes down to a broadly rounded snout shorter than the mouth is wide. The eyes are minute, and the nares are small and widely spaced. The mouth contains 29 tooth rows in the upper and lower jaws, and has short furrows at the corners. The upper teeth are broad, triangular, and upright, with serrated margins, while the lower teeth at the front are more finely serrated with a pair of small cusplets at the base.

The first dorsal fin is broad and triangular, originating over the rear pectoral fin bases with its free rear tip ending in front of the pelvic fin origins. The second dorsal fin is half as tall as the first, and there is no ridge between the dorsal fins. The trailing margin of the anal fin has a deep notch. The coloration is a plain grayish brown above and white below, without conspicuous fin markings. This shark most closely resembles the Ganges shark (G. gangeticus), but has more vertebrae (209 versus 169) and fewer teeth (29/29 versus 32–37/31–34). The small teeth of the Irrawaddy river shark suggests that it mainly preys on fish, while its small eyes are consistent with the extremely turbid water in which it hunts. Reproduction is presumably viviparous, with the young sustained by a placental connection, as in other requiem sharks.

Intensive artisanal fishing, mainly gillnetting but also line and electrofishing, occurs in the stretch of river where the sole Irrawaddy river shark specimen was caught. Habitat degradation poses a further threat to this shark, including water pollution and the clearing of mangrove trees for fuel, construction materials, and other products. This shark may be naturally rare, which along with its highly restricted range, probable overfishing, and loss of habitat, has led the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list it as Critically Endangered. Despite fishing and scientific surveys in the area, no more Irrawaddy river sharks have been recorded in the hundred-plus years since the first.[1]

Plants in Myanmar

The world's largest grass grows in Burma. It can grow as high as 120 feet and have a thickness of 12 inches. It is a bamboo, but bamboo is a kind of grass.

The wild species of plants from which rice and tea evolved came from Burma.

About 7,000 plant species are unique to eastern India and Burma, which is regarded as a biodiversity hot spot.

Lotuses

Nymphaeceae is a family of water plants which includes the water lilies, the sacred lotus (Nelumbo) and the spectacular Queen Victoria water lily (victoria amagorica). It is a family of 8 genera with 90 species found in fresh waters throughout the world. Where there are ponds, lakes and streams these plants are found. In Myanmar—a country dotted with ponds and lakes, large and small— there are many species of water lilies of all colors and sizes with their own Myanmar names. We have the 1) Kya byu (European White Water Lily, Nymphaea alba); 2) Kya Ni (Indian Water Lily, N. Nouchali Burmf); 3) Kya Nyo. Kya Pya (N. Stellata Willd, Indian Blue Water Lily); 4) Kya-hkaung laung (Barclaya longi folia Walld); 5) Kya-pu (Pygmy Water Lily, N. tetra gona Georgi); 6) Gamod Kya or Kumudra Kya (Nymphaea Stellata Willd); and 7) the Padon-ma Kya (Sacred Lotus or Egyptian Lotus, Nelumbium speciosum Willd). [Source: Kyi Kyi Hla]

All these varieties can be found all over the country and the ‘Kya’ which their names have in common is viewed as a reference to their beauty which emerges from the murky and muddy depths to be something to marvel at. The Padon-ma Kya is held especially sacred in Myanmar culture and tradition. The Padon-ma Kya, the Sacred Lotus, is believed to bloom only in sunlight and the Kumudra (Gamod) Kya, a fabulous white lily, is said to bloom only with moonlight. The Padon-ma Kya and the Gamod Kya are both very much appreciated by poets and writers but the Padon-ma Kya is especially considered sacred. When younger people pay their respects to elders. the latter usually respond with blessings one of which goes: "May you be as fresh and dewy as a the Padon-Kya."

The lotus motif is a decorative feature found on the architecture of Buddhist shrines and sacred depositories such as chedis (stupas). The upper part of a chedi just below the pinnacle consists of the diamond bud—the pennant-shaped vane. The umbrella (hti) is an elongated bulbous portion of the chedi known as the banana bud. Just below it is the Kya-yint (Mumifh) that is a motif of large lotus petals encircling the chedi. Next is the Kya-lan (Mumvef), which is the part of the chedi that resembles a spreading upturned lotus flower. Then comes the Kya-nu which is a motif of small lotus petals. And lastly is the Kya-Hmauk (MumarSmuf), which resembles an inverted lotus flower. These motifs add to the grace and beauty of chedis. The lotus motif also decorates the pinnacles of tiered roofs of monasteries and palaces and there is also a vessel somewhat like a fruit stand decorated with lotus petals for offering food and fruits at sacred Buddha shrines. The exotic lotus is a motif which also adorns the gold thrones on which we place Buddha images.

The Padon-ma Kya is a large bloom on a long thick thorny and fibrous stalk. The buds are like elongated bulbs that narrow at the tip. But when the petals open the flowers are fabulous. The color of the sacred lotus is a mix of whitish pink and red. And the white lotus, the Kumudra, is pristine and pure. The fibrous stalks yield strong threads. which are used for weaving the sacred ornamental robe offered to Buddha Images on the Full Moon Day of Tazaungmon (around November). The people of Inlay are most skilled in the spinning and weaving of the sacred lotus silk robe.

There are other mundane uses of the lotus plant. The seed of the lotus is edible. They are green and resemble large peanuts and come embedded in a cup-like bulb that is commonly called Kya-Khwet. (that is a lotus cup) on a stalk. It is a very tasty ingredient in steamed duck or as part of the stuffing in duck roast. They can also be eaten raw. Then there is the lotus leaf. Before the era of plastics they were used to wrap fresh fish and meat in bazaars.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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