Myanmar - formerly known as Burma - is a fascinating multi-cultural nation just beginning to return to the world stage. Encompassed by the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, it has 14 terrestrial ecoregions, supporting 233 globally threatened species and more than 1,000 types of birds, including the endangered Gurney’s Pitta. The country stretches from the Eastern Himalaya mountains to the forested Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary - the world’s largest tiger reserve - and from the mangrove swamps of Irrawaddy Delta to the stunning, and largely undiscovered, Mergui Archipelago in the Andaman Sea, which is surrounded by vibrant coral reefs. Myanmar is home to over 130 distinct ethnic minority groups and some of Asia’s most impressive Buddhist monuments, like Yangon’s gilded Shwedagon Pagoda. Evidence suggests that human presence here dates to 75,000 BCE but a unified Burmese kingdom was not established until 1045. The magnificent ancient city of Bagan that served as its capital boasts over 10,000 pagodas, often witnessed from hot air balloons at daybreak. The floating gardens and stilted houses of Inle Lake can be explored by traditional boat while multi-day treks through the rural countryside and homestays in ethnic minority villages offer insight into ways of life from a bygone era.
Myanmar is now implementing sustainable practices and policies in the development of a regulated national industry guided by an Ecotourism Policy and Management Strategy, supported by the European Union and Asian Development Bank. If successful, ecotourism will be a driving force behind the government’s goal of expanding Myanmar’s Protected Area network from 5.9% country coverage in 2017 to 10% by 2031, among other objectives. While mismanagement has stood in the way of the city of Bagan achieving World Heritage status since its 1996 application, progress forward is finally being made and the ‘tentative’ site will host UNESCO auditors in summer 2018 to assess its candidacy. If admitted, the designation will play a critical role in shaping and supporting ongoing cultural preservation of the historic site.
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is working on projects throughout Myanmar, including one to protect the freshwater populations of Irrawaddy dolphins. Although not a true river dolphin, this oceanic dolphin lives in brackish water near coasts, river mouths and in estuaries. First described in Myanmar in 1866, it has established subpopulations in freshwater rivers, including the Ganges and the Mekong, as well as the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. In 2006, with WCS aid, the Myanmar government established a protected area in a section of the river to support this endangered species. The dolphins play a special role in local culture and for fishermen. In a unique tradition, the dolphins voluntarily herd fish into nets, which can increase the size of fishermen’s catch threefold. The dolphins themselves also benefit by preying on the cornered fish and those that fall out of the nets as the fishermen pull them from the water. The protected area spans 43 miles of the river and is helping to improve public awareness of the Irrawaddy dolphin.Why the Tiger Ranking?