Myanmar only started to reintegrate into the global economy and to attract external investment due to its transition to a civilian government in 2011. As a result, it is only recently that its economy has started to grow, with foreign direct investment doubling within one year. Its major export products include food, clothing, wood and natural gas.
For many years, Myanmar was under military rule but in 2015 it held its first general elections since 1990 with Aung San Suu Kyi of The National League for Democracy winning the majority vote.
Buddhism is the majority religion in Myanmar, though attitudes toward wildlife differ significantly here compared to Bhutan. The country is divided into seven states, each named after seven ethnic minorities with the Bamar or Burman people making up the majority. However, there are thought to be around 135 ethnic groups in total; conflicts between groups continue to fuel social unrest within Myanmar. At times, this means some areas of the country are inaccessible to outsiders, including researchers and conservationists.
Myanmar has a diverse landscape ranging from snow-capped mountains to tropical evergreen forest and dry deciduous forest. It is part of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot due to its significant biodiversity and endemism.
White-bellied Heron in Myanmar
Tribal peoples in northern Myanmar seem not to attach particular cultural values to the White-bellied heron.
Once widespread in Myanmar, the species appears to have significantly declined. Now occurring in two main areas: Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (HVWS), a permanent home to White-bellied Heron, where, most recent surveys, revealed 16 birds; and Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary and Hkakaborazi National Park which appears to host White-bellied Heron seasonally, with as little as two recorded in 2011. It is possible that other areas still hold the species but more research is required to fully understand this.
Unfortunately, due to political unrest, the majority of important White-bellied Heron habitat is currently off-limits. However, in early 2015, WCS staff were able to gain access to Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in which White-bellied Heron were recorded in three places along the Tanai River, an area in which White-bellied Heron have not previously been recorded.
Formal protection of White-bellied Heron in Myanmar
WBH is considered a completely protected species under the ‘Protection of Wildlife and Conservation of Natural Areas Law (1994)’.
This is the highest level of protection under Myanmar law with the penalty explained as:
“37. Whoever commits any of the following acts shall, on conviction be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years or with fine which may extend to kyats 50,000 or with both:-
(a) killing, hunting or wounding a completely protected wild animal without permission, possessing, selling, transporting or transferring such wild animal or any part thereof without permission;
(b) exporting without the recommendation of the Director General a completely protected wild animal or a protected wild plant or any part thereof.”
Threats to White-bellied Heron in Myanmar
The growth of Myanmar’s economy and increasing foreign investment have made Myanmar vulnerable to a host of emerging environmental and social threats, including large-scale deforestation, pollution of waterways, large-scale damming and extraction of natural resources. There are other local level threats such as artisanal gold-mining and hunting.
Hunting wildlife in Myanmar is common. Hunting of large bodied birds (including heron species) with large-mesh mist nests or poison baits has been recorded.