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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, February 11, 2019
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OPINIONS

Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Landscape

Rock & Refuge

I had the opportunity to travel in Myanmar last week, and I visited some parts of the Tanintharyi Landscape and Wildlife Corridor in Tanintharyi Region in the southeast of the country, which was formerly known as Burma.

It was my first time in Myanmar, and my entry was though its capital city, Yangon. From Yangon, I took an hour flight to Dawei, an old and quaint city in the southern most of Myanmar.

I had a glimpse of the Tanintharyi Landscape when we traversed the site in an almost five-hour drive through a dusty and bumpy road, dissecting it from Dawei to Htee Khee, a place near the border of Myanmar and Thailand.

From the road, I saw verdant forests covering numerous hills and mountains, although a number of forest patches looked like a regenerating secondary forest, as logging was once allowed in the area. Several communities are settled along the road, and the sceneries are semblance of typical rural and countryside of the Philippines.

The Tanintharyi Landscape is within the broader Dawna Tenasserim Landscape, considered as the largest connected forest in the South East Asia Region. It measures almost 180,000 square kilometers, or roughly 18 million hectares, with boundaries shared between Myanmar and neighboring Thailand. According to the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature, which considers the DTL as one the five most important landscapes globally, this site remains thickly forested, estimated at 83 percent of its total land area. It is the reason why the WWF is implementing conservation initiatives in this area.

The DTL is the meeting point of four different biogeographic zones, the Indo-Burmese, Indo-Chinese, Sundaic, and Sino-Himalayan, making it a unique ecoregion by itself, known as the Kayah-Karen Montane Rain Forests Ecoregion. It is a transition zone from the subtropical broadleaf evergreen forests in the north to the southern dry deciduous forests. The Tanintharyi Landscape, as I had observed and seen, is mostly covered with deciduous forest, also known as monsoon forest. This forest type is characterized with open woodland of broadleaf trees in tropical region where usually the long dry season occurs.

As we wade in the long-stretched of the Tanintharyi River, the monsoon forests of the landscape are getting more visible and pronounced. Since dry season already started in this part of Myanmar, I saw numerous trees standing devoid of leaves, as if they look dead, at the bank of the river and hills and mountains surrounding it. It is actually one of features of the monsoon forests – the tall trees usually shed their leaves in dry season, but they come into life during the rainy season.

Intersecting these trees are thickets of bamboos that created a contrasting color of green and shiny white trees amidst the bright sunlight and a mixed of blue and white colored clouds.

The almost 10 hours back-and-forth navigation at the Tanintharyi River was not boring at all with the beautiful scenery of the landscape where we spotted several pairs of hornbills and other birds. What I also noticed was the pristine state of the river, although there were several mechanized small-scale gold mining along this body of water. The riverbanks and other immediate surroundings of the river are still covered with assorted vegetation comprising mostly of natural forests and naturally growing bamboos, and I hardly saw traces of soil erosion. The river, where numerous commercially viable fish species also thrive, is the main navigational route of nearby communities within the Tanintharyi Landscape.

Although I did not encounter Asian large mammals, which the DTL, including Tanintharyi Landscape, is known for, I heard the loud voices of Gibbons, a group of primates present in the area, when we were approaching one of the forest blocks. The DTL is a globally important site for iconic faunal species that are already at the brink of extinction in the wild. The WWF listed species in the landscape include the Indochinese tiger, Asian elephant, gaur, banteng, clouded leopard, Malayan tapir, wild dog, fishing cat, and Siamese crocodile.

Some regional endemic species are similarly found in the site, like the Fea’s Muntjac, Gurney’s Pitta, Burmese Yuhina, and Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, with the latter known as the world’s smallest mammal, according to the WWF. The Sumatran rhinoceros is believed to have existed in this area, but no recent records were made for the species.

The entire landscape is facing numerous conservation issues, and the WWF-Myanmar is embarking to prepare the Tanintharyi Landscape vision and plan to ensure its long-term conservation. I am glad for the opportunity to provide technical assistance in the facilitation of the different planning processes of this globally important resource, starting this February and in the coming months.

Just like in the Philippines, the need to balance biodiversity conservation and the presence and needs of communities is a vital concern in the management of the Tanintharyi Landscape.*

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