Myanmar Cyclone a "Catastrophe" for Wildlife

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
May 14, 2008

The human tragedy resulting from the cyclone that struck Myanmar earlier this month is staggering, with perhaps 100,000 people dead or missing and 1.5 million people facing hunger and disease.

The cyclone's impact on the country's wildlife, however, is far less clear and may never be properly known, conservationists say.

Myanmar (also known as Burma) is home to a wide range of threatened species, including the critically endangered Irrawaddy river dolphins.

(Read related story: "River Dolphin Closer to Extinction Despite Reports, Experts Say" [March 21, 2007].)

While most threatened animals, including the dolphins, are found north of the river delta that was flooded by the cyclone, conservationists warn that the human needs resulting from the disaster could have a devastating impact on forests and wildlife.

"With what could be massive rice shortages in the country and an immediate need for new building materials, I am afraid that the forests and wildlife—even far from the damaged area—will eventually suffer," said Alan Rabinowitz, president of the New York-based conservation group Panthera who has worked in Myanmar for several decades.

"Hunting, non-forest product extraction, and logging are likely to increase, first in areas closest to the delta, and then make their way north."

Safe For Now

Myanmar is probably the most biodiverse country in Southeast Asia, according to Colin Poole, director of the Asia program for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

"It has a huge range of habitats from almost Himalaya[-like] mountains of the north right down to the lowland tropical forests of the south," Poole said.

"Large areas of these habitats still remain and have not been severely exploited."

Among the critically endangered animals in Myanmar are endemic species of rhinos and bats.

Continued on Next Page >>




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