According to the Endangered Species Act (1973) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, tiger is listed as an endangered species. In addition, the illusive and charismatic Asian large cat, tiger, is listed in Appendix I in CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). In Myanmar, tiger species is totally protected by the Protection of Wildlife, Wild Plants and Conservation of Natural Areas Law.
A century years ago the Tiger (Panthera tigris) was present across Asia from Turkey to Russia and south to the Indonesia. Myanmar is one of (13) countries in Mainland Asia where tigers persist today. Tiger can traditionally be classified into (10) subspecies of which (2) subspecies such as Bengal tiger Panthera tigris tigris and Indochinese Tiger Panthera tigris corbetti are roaming in Myanmar. The natural ecological divide for these two subspecies in Myanmar is assumed to be the mighty Irrawaddy River. Field reports and information from key stakeholders, for instance, surveyors, hunters, foresters, consultants and researchers proved to the widespread occurrence of tigers in the country excluding the higher elevation areas in the northern mountains.
In 1903, English Soldiers shot a tigress at the Shwedagon, Rangoon (now known as Yangon). We can imagine how abundances of tigers are in the past. Pollok and Thom (1900) stated that the hunting of tigers has a long history in Myanmar. Tigers were traditionally considered pests and until 1931 the government provided licenses and rewards for killing them. This led to depopulation on a massive scale through sport hunting. For example, during a 4 year period from 1928-1932, 1,382 tigers were reported killed in British Burma (Prater 1940), an order of magnitude larger number than the current tiger population in Myanmar.
In 1999, WCS Myanmar in collaboration with the Myanmar Forest Department did a study to determine the current status and distribution of tigers, and planned an updated national strategy for tiger conservation and management. Three-year program was conducted jointly by both parties; the end product is “A National Tiger Action Plan for the Union of Myanmar” which can easily be downloaded from the internet. In this action plan, historical records of tiger occurrence in Myanmar are provided.
According to the 3-year national tiger survey, three areas areas – Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (HKVWS), Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary (HMTWS) and Tenasserim Range – were proved to be present by using camera traps.
HKVWS – Covering 17,373 km2 area of contiguous habitat in the upper Chindwin River Basin, HKVWS is situated in the northwestern region of Kachin State, Naga Autonomous Region and Sagaing region of Myanmar. After National Tiger Survey, the tiger monitoring program was continued in HKVWS from 2002 to 2006 while the valley developed the official establishment of protected area. Based on Lynam et al. 2009, tiger population in the survey affected area is 7 to 71 individuals. Then, Tigers Forever program was formulated at the end of 2006. At the same time, the size of protected area was tripled to represent the whole landscape – flooded plain grassland, open and close mixed-deciduous forest, hill evergreen forest – and become the world largest tiger reserve. The evidence of tiger was proved till the end of 2009. In mid 2011, regional politics became worse particularly between the relationship of KIA (Kachin Independence Army) and the central government. As a consequence, any biological monitoring and threat monitoring programs in the HKVWS has become brought to a standstill.
HMTWS – Also, HMTWS, covering 2,150 km2 area of semi-evergreen and deciduous forest habitat, is one of the most promising sites regarding the Asian largest carnivore conservation. In 2013 and 2014, our program survey teams confirmed the presence of tiger by observation of track and sign and camera trap survey as well. Again in this year, i.e. 2015, our 3-months survey confirmed that tiger could reproduce and recover in the sanctuary when protected area is properly managed and well protected in time. In HMTWS, tigers can be found from the northern border to the southern edge.
Geographically bounded between Uyu and Chindwin rivers, the Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary has been the largest nature protected area in the Sagaing Region of Myanmar since its foundation in 1974.
In its 531,456 acres, this wildlife sanctuary hosts a variety of critical Asian large mammal species, such as tigers (Panthera tigris), Asian elephant (Elephax maximus), Asian largest Bovidae species like the Gaur (Bos gaurus) and until not long ago the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis).
Tigers used to thrive in this sanctuary, as documented by numerous field reports collected in the 80s and 90s. In 1999, WCS in collaboration with the Myanmar Forest Department engaged in a 3-year long scientific study to determine the status and distribution of tigers through the use of camera traps.
This extensive study provided evidence of the presence of tigers not only within the Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, but also in the Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary and in the Tenasserim Range. These findings resulted in a National Tiger Action Plan for Myanmar, a document outlining the updated national strategy for tiger conservation and management that instructed conservation efforts for the following decade.
In the following decade, the tiger population increasingly suffered from habitat degradation and poaching. At the same time, in mid 2011, our conservation work in the region started to face increased interference from a deteriorating political climate resulting in clashes between the central government of Myanmar and both Kachin and Naga ethnic groups. Security concerns for our field researchers and lack of cooperation from local communities temporarily brought conservation programs for tigers in the Hukaung Valley to a standstill. Also in the Tenasserim Range in Southern Myanmar clashes with local insurgent groups undermined biological conservation projects for Asian big cats.
The tiger conservation situation quickly became so dire that towards the end of 2013 a BBC troupe sent to Myanmar for filming wild big cats only managed to identify only a handful of female tigers left in Htamanthi, thus putting conservation efforts at a stake.
The Clouded leopard survey project WCS carried out in this habitat area using 160 camera traps supported by WildCRU allowed for a better understanding of the population size of the greatly diverse wildlife species inhabiting this semi-evergreen, moist upper-mixed and dry upper-mixed deciduous forest. During the 3 months survey, WCS proved the presence of tigers and a sizable population their traditional prey species like gaur, barking deer, Eurasian wild pig.
Our work in support of tigers and the whole surrounding ecosystem continues nowadays with the important support from the Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme backed by IUCN and the German Development Bank (KfW). This partnership allows WCS to continue our monitoring of threats and detrimental factors threating the survival of the tiger population in Htamanthi and the whole conservation landscape 37. Based on the scientific evidence we’ve collected so far, we believe that the Htamanthi wildlife sanctuary represents a primary stronghold to support the recovery of the tiger population in Myanmar and South East Asia.
Key Conservation Targets of the Myanmar National Tiger Action Plan
- Suppressing all killing of tigers and the illegal trade in tiger products,
- Reducing killing of tiger prey species and associated trade,
- Improving forestry management to stop further loss of tiger habitat and to restore degraded habitat,
- Improving forestry management to reduce intrusions of local people into tiger habitat, and improve planning to avoid development in tiger critical areas,
- Establishing protected areas, ecological corridors and priority management areas to protect wild tigers and their habitat,
- Improving international cooperation and establish cooperative management of contiguous protected areas along borders to maintain connectivity of tiger habitat across international boundaries,
- Monitoring the status of the tiger and prey population to assess the effectiveness of conservation efforts,
- Improving public awareness of the importance of tiger conservation to increase support from local people, and
- Defining roles and responsibilities of personnel responsible for tiger conservation.
Conservation Actions Taken By WCS Myanmar
- Develop “A National Tiger Action Plan for the Union of Myanmar”,
- Help developing “A National Biodiversity Action Plan”
- Help revising Protected Species Categories in Myanmar Wildlife Law,
- Conduct Wildlife Conservation and Awareness Training,
- Conduct Biological Survey Training (Track and Sign Survey, Camera Trap Survey),
- Develop Field Manual for surveyors,
- Conduct Biological Monitoring Surveys (Track and Sign Survey, Camera Trap Survey) for tiger and principal tiger prey species,
- Conduct local and national level Law Enforcement Monitoring and SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tools) Patrol Trainings and Workshops,
- Improve Public Engagement (Environmental Education Program, Community Based Natural Resource Management Program, Key Stakeholder Consultation Workshops),
- Cooperate internationally in conducting biological survey with the Panthera Foundation, WildCRU (Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Oxford University), attending trainings and workshops, other trans-boundary conservation program and for funding with IUCN, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, GTI (Global Tiger Initiative), World Bank.