World's largest tiger reserve declared in Myanmar

03/31/04

'Valley of Death' becomes valley of life for big cats

NEW YORK (MARCH 31, 2004) -- The Bronx Zoo based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced today that the government of Myanmar has formally declared a sprawling 8,400-square-mile reserve for tigers, making it the largest protected area for these endangered big cats on earth.

Called the Hukawng Valley Tiger Reserve, the Vermont-sized protected area culminates more than five years of collaborative work between WCS and the Myanmar Forest Department that catalogued not only the region's wildlife, but also identified threats from outside forces such as gold mining and commercial hunting. Wildlife surveys revealed the reserve also contains rich populations of elephants, rare clouded leopards, and endangered gaur, a massive species of wild cattle weighing up to a ton.

In addition to its rich wildlife diversity, Hukawng is historically significant, known as the "Valley of Death" during WWII , due to the costly Stillwell (or Ledo) Road supply route constructed by the Allies through its interior.

"The Valley of Death is now the 'Valley of Life' for tigers," said Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, WCS Director of Science and Exploration. "If the Hukawng Valley is properly protected and managed, this area could contain the largest contiguous population of tigers in the world, and help seed other potential tiger habitat that has already lost this magnificent animal."

According to Rabinowitz, the reserve's current population of approximately 80-100 tigers can grow to perhaps ten times as many, if protection and management plans are carried out properly.

Rabinowitz conducted much of the Reserve's initial wildlife surveys and helped the Myanmar Forest Department draw up management plans, which will include training and education, park infrastructure, and local community development initiatives. A chronicle of Rabinowitz's on-the-ground work to protect Hukawng Valley is featured in the April issue of National Geographic Magazine.

"The objective of WCS and the Myanmar Forest Department is to make the Hukawng Valley Tiger Reserve a model of large-scale, landscape conservation, where both tigers and humans can benefit from careful protection and management of natural resources," Rabinowitz said. The Hukawng Valley Tiger Reserve is now part of Myanmar's Northern Forest Complex, a network of four contiguous protected areas explored and surveyed by WCS and the Myanmar Forest Department between 1996 and 2002. This 12,000 square-mile block now stands as one of the largest forested protected areas in Asia.

The Wildlife Conservation Society's efforts to save tigers throughout their range are featured in "Tiger Mountain," a new exhibit that opened at the Bronx Zoo last May.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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