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Myanmar: Stimulus through conservation and tourism

A conservation and tourism project has been launched in the north of Myanmar with the support of the local conservation organisation Sittwe Bird Lovers. Hunting rights have been bought up and wildlife observation promoted to protect birds.


A report by Christoph Zöckler


Our local partner Ren Nou Soe has set up a conservation group, which has attracted young members from the regional capital Sittwe and from the island inhabitants of Nan Thar. The conservation project is still active with a lot of initiatives and ideas that have been implemented in a committed manner. Sittwe Bird Lovers (SBL) have devoted themselves to the protection of indigenous birds and the natural environment with a focus on environmental education for the local population. The protection of the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper and other sea birds along the Arakan (Rakhine) coast in the north-west of Burma is a key concern for the new organisation. Ren and his fellow campaigners are very well aware that protection can only be achieved with the support of the local inhabitants on the island.


Nan Thar island lies off the coast, close to the border with Bangladesh. Ren has visited the island on a number of occasions since 2010 and has carried out a study using questionnaires to identify the scope and significance of bird hunting to the people of the region.


Successes through hunting ban

There has been a hunting ban on the island since March 2009, which has already led to a notable increase in the number of overwintering ducks (Northern Pintail from Siberia) and may well have also had an influence on that of the spoon-billed sandpiper. While just 14 birds were registered in the winters of 2009 and 2010, the number rose to 22 in the winter of 2011. Moreover, 12 spoon-billed sandpipers were spotted on the island by the end of April, which is very late in the year. These included immature birds, which may have been born the previous year, and thus may indicate breeding success. This development would definitely not have been possible without the hunting ban and this not only represents a great success for the endangered species but also for the inhabitants of the island who have become increasingly proud of their rare fellow residents.


Ren and a number of helpers put up signs on the island to clearly indicate the hunting ban. They give notice of the ban on hunting water birds and tortoises.


Renewed negotiations with the relevant hunting representatives on an agreement for the acquisition of hunting rights proved to be difficult again as there were competitors from the hunting community in the neighbourhood. Nevertheless, the rights could be acquired for one year by SBL and the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA). The island of Nan Thar is owned by a family of former military officerswho are very reluctant to give up the rights. The costs were met by income from tourist visits, which were put in a fund.


Protection of the Indian Skimmer

The population of the globally-endangered Indian Skimmer (Rhynchops albicollis) continues to rapidly decline and is also threatened by persecution by fishermen. Just 27 birds were spotted in 2008 and later only eight of the estimated 5,000 total number of this species. Ren showed the same commitment here as he launched an educational campaign in the villages and he continues to seek agreement with the locals to protect this rare water bird. A joint publication on this issue is planned.


Public relations

Ren and friends from the island ran two workshops in neighbouring villages in August and October. Ren took care of the production of T-shirts that were produced in time to be sold at the international British Birdfair. ArcCona successfully presented the project at the fair and also achieved the publication of an article in the German magazine Der Falke, that promoted Nan Thar as a travel destination and also mentioned the Lighthouse Foundation. A further scientific report is planned for the next bulletin of the Wader Study Group.


However, Ren's biggest success was amongst the local inhabitants who have developed a certain pride in rare sea birds. Ren believes he is the first person in the country to observe the spoon-billed sandpiper in breeding plumage. I think Ren has proved to be a strong ally in the protection of the natural environment, which hopefully will continue to multiply.


Development and promotion of tourism

The first tourist party visited Nan Thar island in 2010

The middle term aim is to increase the income of the population of the island by developing nature tourism. Unfortunately, no permits have been issued to Nan Thar visitors due to two storms one after the other in a short space of time. This means the number of tourists has remained very small. Despite that, the assistance of the Lighthouse Foundation has led to improvements in the infrastructure both for tourists and local inhabitants. Toilets and sunshades have been erected, a fountain built and other minor improvements completed.


Although the first structures, like nearly all properties on the island, were destroyed by the tropical storms in October, and have only now been rebuilt. Fortunately, none of the islanders were hurt.


Further organised tours have been planned for next winter including in neighbouring areas with similar conservation problems and attractive bird species. ArcCona will continue to offer and organise tours and they have joined forces with the British travel operator Bird Holidays.


Next steps

The possibility exists to lease the whole island for 30 years for approximately US $10,000. This will provide security for the local population and also secure the hunting ban in the long term. BANCA has sent a team of experts to the region to extend the hunting ban and complete a socio-economic evaluation there in line with other coasts. Ren has been included and the results are expected over the course of the summer.


With the help of support from the Species Task Force and continued assistance from ArCona, Ren will continue to be able to visit regularly over the summer months and carry out a monitoring project.





Project partner:

Arccona Ecological consulting

Dr. Christoph Zöckler

Cambridge CB3 0HY

30 Eachard Road

Great Britain