Horrific violence has affected Myanmar/Burma for longer than any civil war in modern history. The violence has its own obvious effects — the people who suffer the incredible trauma of, for example, having their infant children dashed across trees. And in these domestic conflicts, there are many tangential effects. For example, when violence plagues an area, especially a harsh jungle environment like rural Burma, infrastructure takes a sharp decline. That means a decline in education and basic hygiene necessities; it means a decline in health care, which often kills more people than the violence.
The environment also suffers. A few pictures of elephants who have hit landmines will gain traction every once in a while, or the slaughtering of livestock as military forces push people from their homes, but these issues are usually overshadowed by the massive loss of human life in the area, which is completely understandable. Still, it’s important as many of the cultures who live in the jungles are dependent on the natural world around them, and they thrive as it thrives, despite the inherent brutality of nature.
For example, both Indochinese tigers and Bengal tigers live throughout Burma, but due to the rising conflicts, their numbers have begun to wane even faster than the regular rate that tigers have been suffering. Some estimates say that there are less than 100 tigers left in the country, though estimates cannot be certain and most evidence of their continuing existence is anecdotal, according to the WWF. No doubt collecting this sort of data is immensely difficult with all the instability in the area.
There is a wildlife reserve called the Hukawng Valley Tiger Reserve, and it spans approximately 8,452 square miles. Despite the fact that it is a designated wildlife reserve, the government still allows significant gold mining there, which has been heavily criticized by the indigenous people in the area, particularly the Kachin people who are currently on the receiving end of the military’s aggressive efforts against the country’s fringe states.
Efforts like these — the push against the locals who actually live in the areas, and the government’s general disregard for the environment at large — all culminate in a rapidly deteriorating situation for the animals of Burma.
The Burmese government has expressed optimism in regards to conservation efforts, despite the dwindling numbers.
Many hope for peace so that the focus will not have to be simply about staying alive — it could shift to nurturing the environment around them, and perhaps finally combating the dropping population of tigers. “We hope for a decent peace in the region, so that they can stay in their homes and participate in preservation projects, as the villagers play a vital role in wildlife conservation,” said U Than Myint, country director of Wildlife Conservation Society in Myanmar, in a statement to a Burmese news organization.
However, until the human conflict is over, it is likely that the tiger population will continue to decline, alongside the elephants, Indochinese leopards, bears, and monkeys that live in the area.
Featured image: An adult tiger looks out from its cage at Luang Ta Bua temple, May 16, 2003, near Kanchanaburi, 110 kilometers (68 miles) west of Bangkok, Thailand. A landmark report by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society has calculated there could be fewer than 150 left in Myanmar. The culprits are the illegal wildlife traders and their gangs of hired poachers. Tiger parts are highly prized in China and Thailand by makers of traditional medicines, and Myanmar sits on the border of both countries. | AP Photo/David Longstreath