Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, October 21st, 2018

A Proposal For Joint Conservation Initiatives (JCI) Between South and South East Asia

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A Proposal For Joint Conservation Initiatives (JCI) Between South and South East Asia

The recent report on sad demise of peacocks and other birds in Myanmar calls for close cooperation in wildlife and forest conservation between adjacent nations in South and SE Asia. While peacocks are moving towards extinction in Myanmar and are already extinct in the wild in neighboring Bangladesh; they have reached exploding population levels in India. The rise in peacock populations has been so high in some states of India that they have been quite detrimental to farms and crop productions due to their elevated numbers. If there has been a mechanism in existence between the adjoining countries for translocation of one species to other countries, the conservation efforts in South and SE Asia could reach a new level and easily serve as a global model. The new government of Myanmar should work towards enhancing better conservation efforts for protecting wildlife and forests within the nation. It will be important to build awareness among the communities for educating them about the value of conserving local forests and wildlife. However, a broader collaboration with respect to wildlife and forest conservation between SAARC and ASEAN member nations could play a significant role in spear heading successful conservation efforts in South and SE Asia, a region known for its spectacular biodiversity.
Another important case that further advocates for such broader joint initiative in conservation is exemplified by the rise in tiger populations in Russia and Asian countries in the latest release of global tiger census which has been a coordinated effort of 14 tiger inhabited nations. The latest global tiger census indicated significant rise in tiger population in Asia with substantial increase in the Indian subcontinent (India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh). India has been highlighted in the report with almost 70% of global tiger population. However, it is important to mention that overall increase in tiger population has been noticed in the entire Indian sub-continent with 2226 in India, 198 in Nepal, 103 in Bhutan and 106 in Bangladesh. No data is currently available for Myanmar; with both biodiversity rich Indonesia and Malaysia showing increase in the number of tigers as 371 and 250 respectively. Thailand also has a good wild population of the Indochinese sub species of tiger with a count of 189. Thailand and Myanmar are now considered as the last two quality habitats for the Indochinese tiger sub species; while the Indian subcontinent houses the Bengal subspecies and Russia the famous and the largest Amur tigers. The number is Russia is also impressive with a count of 433.
The situation in the Vietnam is depressing with just more than five reported and in neighboring Laos it is just 2. No wild tiger reported from Cambodia in this census is alarming suggesting the species to be extinct in the wild; while China has been the home of two sub species (South China and Indochinese sub species) reported less than seven species. SE Asia and China unfortunately harbors some of the largest illegal wildlife markets promoting trade on different tiger body parts due to heavy demand in their traditional medicinal practices and tiger skin. If the tiger permanently vanishes from their natural habitat in vast regions of China and SE Asia; the loss of the top predator will be detrimental to the long term health of the local ecosystems. With severely dwindling population of the Indochinese sub species of tiger across China and SE Asia; Myanmar and Thailand could be the last refuge for wild stock repopulation for captive breeding and reintroduction across China and SE Asia in future. Hence a proactive joint conservation initiative between nations is desperately needed for strengthening conservation efforts in such biodiverse regions. Joint border management by forest and conservation staff along with border security troops or agencies along adjacent nations in SE Asia could prevent wildlife trafficking and poaching significantly. If the porous international borders are secured the wildlife trafficking transit routes will be effectively cut off and help in reduction of wildlife trade. Intelligence sharing between countries would also help cross-border wildlife trafficking and trade units to be appropriately dismantled and uprooted from adjoining countries.
Asia is the home range of the largest member of the cat family, the tiger (Panthera tigris). The majestic predator roams across tropical and sub-tropical moist deciduous forests, evergreen forests, subtropical and temperate forests; as well as mangrove forests, alluvial grasslands, mountains and hills. The NE India adjoining China, Bangladesh and Myanmar represents unique ecosystems with seven states (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura) all known for their extreme biodiversity and majestic forests. The region is known for several endangered species such as Asiatic elephants, one horned Indian rhinoceros, red panda, common leopard, snow leopard, clouded leopard, Thamin deer, several species of rare primates and birds to mention only a handful. Assam and Arunachal Pradesh represent premier tiger habitats in NE India; although recently a tigress was reported to be killed by local villages in Nagaland. While some experts suggest that a Bengal tigress most possibly migrated to Nagaland; others suggest it could be a rare Indochinese sub species of tiger that may have unfortunately migrated across Myanmar into Nagaland. This region is grossly under explored and may be hiding some of the rich tiger habitats of the nation. The success of tiger conservation should encourage all the states in the NE as well as other parts of India to adopt successful conservation plans like Project Tiger to protect several endemic, endangered and vulnerable species of local flora and fauna.

Two sub species of tigers reside in adjacent ecosystems: the larger Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) inhabiting the Indian subcontinent (India, Nepal, Bhutan& Bangladesh); and the smaller Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) inhabiting South China and SE Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). Both sub species are considered endangered by IUCN. It will be quite interesting to look for any evidence of range overlap and/or wild natural hybrids occurring between Indochinese tiger X Bengal tiger in remote border areas of Indo-China and Indo-Myanmar border areas of NE India (Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram), southern Yunnan or western Myanmar? Historic data suggests that Bengal tigers were once present in parts of southern China but eventually became extinct; hence there could be possibilities of such sightings in the border areas of these three countries. It will be also interesting to identify if there are important animal migration corridors between these three countries. Comprehensive ground and aerial surveys, placing numerous camera traps, tiger scats, hair, blood and tissue sampling will be necessary for identifying these biological mysteries. If some individuals of these two tiger sub species on either side of the international border across India, China and Myanmar are tracked and monitored; valuable information could be retrieved about their corresponding ranges and if any range overlap happens across the international boundaries that could also be easily identified and recorded. Such information will be invaluable for the purpose of tiger conservation in south China, Indian subcontinent and SE Asia. A formal agreement between adjacent nations could help in exchange of wildlife data, expertise in surveying and conservation practices and help in translocation, captive breeding and reintroduction to the wild for several endangered species like the tiger. Joint coordination and cooperation in the form of Joint Conservation Management between the SAARC and ASEAN member nations could thus help extensively in the process of conservation of the majestic forests and wildlife of South and SE Asia.

Saikat Kumar Basu is a Canada and India based freelance journalist specializing in global geo-political, strategic and foreign policy issues, science & technology and environment & conservation related themes. Regularly contributes to newspapers, newsletters, bulletins, magazines and journals in Asia, Africa and the Americas.

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