Category Archives: Nature Matters

UN charts new territory with project to track all Myanmar’s forests

This file photo taken on July 23, 2015 shows a worker looking on amid a pile of logs at a holding area along the Yangon river in Yangon. (AFP)

A new five-year project in Myanmar will for the first time document all forests in the Southeast Asian nation – including places affected by ethnic tensions – to pinpoint deforestation risks and boost conservation, the United Nations said.

The joint Myanmar-Finland project, launched this week with funding of 8 million euros ($9 million), will monitor all types of forests in an exercise aimed at helping the country reduce emissions that fuel climate change and adapt to warming impacts.

It will also serve as a basis to develop global guidelines for tracking and protecting forests in conflict zones.

“For a lot of people, Myanmar is a country with still a lot of unknowns,” said Julian Fox, team leader for national forest monitoring at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, which is managing the project.

“There are huge areas of forests that have never been measured,” Fox told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.

About 70% of Myanmar’s population living in rural areas rely on its estimated 29 million hectares (72 million acres) of forests to provide for their basic needs and services.

But Myanmar also has the third-highest deforestation rate in the world – after Brazil and Indonesia – according to the FAO, partly driven by agricultural expansion and logging activities.

Although the authorities in colonial times made efforts to map parts of the country and its forests, Fox said there had never been a complete national forest inventory.

“For accurate information on forests, you need to know many things underneath the canopy – the tree species, soil, even the social-political context,” he said by phone.

The project will measure trees – with the potential to discover new species – and monitor biodiversity and carbon-storage levels, he added.

Starting in non-conflict forest zones, before expanding into less-secure areas such as the borders with China, Bangladesh and Thailand, the project will use modern tools like laser tree-measuring equipment and collect physical samples, Fox said.

It will cover Rakhine, a state from which more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017 that the United Nations has said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies that charge.

By engaging in sensitive talks with different ethnic groups and organisations on the ground, the FAO hopes to be able to monitor forest areas in higher-risk conflict zones.

Myanmar has more than 100 different ethnic groups, each with its own history, culture and language or dialect.

If methods developed and used here prove successful, they could be applied in other forested and remote conflict-affected areas worldwide seen as off limits up to now, Fox said.

“It is important that conflict sensitivity and human rights remain in the core of the forest monitoring work in order to ensure that it benefits all people, including ethnic minorities,” Finland’s ambassador to Myanmar, Riikka Laatu, said in a statement.

All results and data on Myanmar’s forests will be made publicly available, allowing both the government and different ethnic groups to better manage and protect forests, Fox said.

Nyi Nyi Kyaw, director-general of the forest department in Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said the government was “in urgent need of better and updated data about the state of all the forests in Myanmar”.


Brahmaputra River Islands: Emerging Corridors for Tigers

Brahmaputra River Islands

The Brahmaputra valley acts as a vital link for wildlife populations by facilitating the movement of various large mammals between numerous Protected Areas in central Assam. Key tiger habitats in the flood plains of the Brahmaputra include Orang NP, Laokhowa and Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuaries and Kaziranga NP. Nameri National Park and Pakke Tiger Reserve are located at the Northern end of the Brahmaputra basin, along the border of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Kaziranga and Orang National Parks support the largest extant tiger populations in north-east India and Kaziranga NP has been recognized to serve as a ‘source site’ for the entire region. The Brahmaputra ecosystem is not only a stronghold of tigers, but is also home to a plethora of other wildlife species, several of which only occur lowlands abutting the Himalayan ranges.

Photographic evidence from camera traps has revealed that tigers may traverse long distances in the Brahmaputra Basin, using river networks and even moving through human dominated areas. For example, in 2013, a tiger was documented to have moved from Kaziranga National Park to Nameri National Park. The tiger is believed to have covered an approximate distance of 90 kilometers -swimming across the Brahmaputra River, using river islands, moving through a vast expanse of agricultural land, and even fording the busy National Highway 52. The persistence of tigers in this landscape requires that viable meta-populations exist; animals can successfully move between various PAs and habitat patches via the Brahmaputra River Islands and through the agricultural matrix.

Connectivity between various forest fragments that support tigers has drastically reduced in recent decades on account of increasing human pressure and growing habitations along the river bank and on the islands. In addition, flood-dynamics of the Brahmaputra River result in annual creation of new river islands, even as some existing islands are washed away. Habitat integrity and connectivity has also been compromised by increasing human pressure on the Laokhowa and Burachapori wildlife sanctuaries in recent decades. Recognizing these challenges, WWF India’s conservation program in the North Bank and Kaziranga Karbi Anglong Landscapes has emphasized the maintenance of habitat connectivity between forest patches in the Brahmaputra river valley.

Brahmaputra River Island Survey
To investigate the use of Brahmaputra islands by tigers and other wildlife, and document the extent and intensity of human use in these areas, WWF India and the State Forest Department collaboratively initiated a series of island surveys in 2010. These surveys were designed to assess functionality of the riverine islands as corridors for dispersing the wildlife (primarily, carnivores and prey species) from Kaziranga NP to proximate habitat patches.River Bank

Surveys encompassed the islands on the Brahmaputra River between the eastern end of Kaziranga NP and western end of Orang NP. Thus far, WWF India has carried out the survey in four phases (2010-11, 2012-13, 2015-16 and 2016-17). The first phase covered the islands between Laokhowa and Burachapori WLS and Kaziranga NP. In the second phase, the islands between Orang NP and Laokhowa and Burachapori WLS were covered. During the third phase in 2015-16, the survey covered portions of three major tributaries of the Brahmaputra i.e. JiaBhoroli, Borgang and Buroi which serve as connecting links between Kaziranga NP – Nameri NP, and Kaziranga NP – Behali Reserve Forest. Concurrently, we also carried out a socio economic assessment of human settlements on the river islands to map and understand anthropogenic pressures and threats. The most recent survey was conducted between November 2016 and January 2017 from eastern point of Kaziranga NP to Kolia Bhomora bridge. During this phase, camera trap sampling was carried out for a 20 day period along with sign surveys. 14 pairs of camera traps were used in 14 different islands to record photographic evidence of animal use.

Sign surveys were an important part of the river island surveys. Such sign surveys involved sampling islands on foot transects to detect indirect evidence for the presence of wildlife (eg. tracks, spoor, scrapes, scent markings). Visual detections of mammals were also recorded. Survey effort (transect length) varied between 0.5 and 2km, depending on the size of the islands, and other field conditions including accessibility.

Results and Outcomes
During the Brahmaputra River Island Survey, evidence of tiger presence was detected in 18 of the river islands, including direct sighting of a tiger in Hatibalu Chapori of Bishwanath Range of Kaziranga NP. During the second phase of the survey, presence of tiger cubs was also recorded in Kartika Chapori. Evidence of breeding tigresses on the islands may be indicative of the fact that some islands may in fact lie within the territorial boundaries of some tigers.

In addition to tigers, the presence of other carnivores was also detected on most of the islands. In the 2016 camera trap survey, tigers, rhinos, fishing cat, jackal, sambar, hog deer and water buffalo were photocaptured, while water buffalo, swamp deer, elephant, sambar, wild boar, and hog deer were sighted on transect surveys.

Of the 45 river islands surveyed, more than 50 % had human habitations. People belonging to five different communities are found to have occupied these islands, mostly on a seasonal basis, with livestock rearing and agriculture being their mainstay. Incidents of human wildlife conflict are very common in the islands, mainly by way of crop depredation by large herbivores (elephants, deer and wild boar) and livestock depredation by tigers and leopards. However, there has been no systematic documentation of conflict by Government agencies.

The Way forward
The Brahmaputra River Island surveys revealed the presence of several endangered mammals on islands. These islands serve as stepping stones and may provide connectivity between some of Assam’s most important PAs.

The ephemeral nature of river islands and their relative inaccessibility has resulted in being neglected from both administrative and wildlife management perspectives. Thus, jurisdiction and law enforcement needs to be strengthened to ensure protection of these ever important wildlife habitats that also serve as vital corridors. Information generated through these series of surveys has been used to influence and inform decision making for proper protection and management of this unique ecosystem, and there is increased patrolling by forest guards on a number of islands adjacent to Kaziranga National Park. In the coming years, WWF India in collaboration with various Government Departments intends to take up initiatives to ensure the protection and management of the much crucial islands of the Brahmaputra River. Efforts will also be undertaken to reduce anthropogenic pressure in these islands by taking steps to reduce impacts of local communities on wildlife habitats, and also garner their support for the conservation.

– Courtesy: WWF India



The Government of Manipur has officially declared Phalong village located in Tamenglong district as the Amur Falcon Village. The announcement was made on 26th November 2015 by the Additional Chief Conservator of Forest, Mr. K. Angam. Chief Minister of Manipur Mr. Ibobi Singh and various other prominent personalities were also present on the occasion. The significant efforts made by the villagers to conserve the bird species were acknowledge and the village was also awarded with a sum of Rs.50, 000.

A Balanced Road to Development

Photo: Catherine Cussagnet / Huff Post
Photo: Catherine Cussagnet / Huff Post

With economic growth and capitalisation being the worldwide focus today, the current model of economic development forces us to make a choice between progress and sustaining natural resources. Naturenomics relates to capital formation for a region or organisation through the creation of ecologically ‘compliant’ assets in a sustainable manner.

Current mainstream industrial agricultural practices around the world are destructive, destroying forests, topsoil and polluting the air and water. Myanmar, though, is dedicated to bring about a change by embracing development keeping a keen eye on sustainability. Its varied ecosystems and different elevations from sea level to high mountainous region, with an elevation of near 6,000 meters make the nation rich in biodiversity. With extensive natural resource endowments, increasing foreign direct investment and a central location in Asia, Myanmar is poised to experience substantial economic development gains in the coming years. Myanmar can indeed take the lead in carbon neutrality in its progress mapping, so as to ensure bio-diversity, and proper utilisation and conservation of waste, water and air.


A Naturenomics-based economy primarily attempts to secure 4 key natural assets – food, water, energy and environment.

The industries that will thrive in this new model will be the ones the emphasise recycling and reuse rather than extractions along with using renewable energy source rather than fossil-based fuels. Increasing energy and material efficiency in productions processes, reducing wastes from production and promoting recycling, promoting use of new and renewable sources of energy, using environmentally sound technologies for sustainable production, reducing wasteful consumption and increasing awareness for sustainable consumption are set down.

Hence this means deriving our food and water needs through effective land and water resource management and not by exploiting these resources, by satisfying our energy needs through hydrogen and solar-based fuels rather than carbon based fuels, and satisfying our ever-increasing appetite for materials by increasing reuse and recycling and not by increasing extraction. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that sustainable development is intricately linked to happiness and wellbeing. Myanmar’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) attempts to measure the value of the nation’s natural, human, social, and cultural wealth rather than only its manufactured and financial capital. The term originated in the 1970s, when the Himalayan kingdom introduced the new measurement of national prosperity, focusing on people’s well being rather than economic productivity. Myanmar balances the material and non-material aspects of wellbeing and the central challenges of the 21st century: achieving sustainable human development.