Extraordinary Cat Diversity in Myanmar and Thailand Landscape Underscores Need for Urgent Protection, WWF “Land of Cats” Report Says.
Bangkok, January 14, 2020 -- A remarkable one fifth of the world’s 36 cat species are found in a single landscape straddling Thailand and Myanmar, but they are under increasing threat of extinction, according to a new report from WWF that outlines an eight-point action plan to save them.
“Dawna Tenasserim: The Land of Cats” profiles the tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, Asiatic golden cats, marbled cats, jungle cats and leopard cats that roam the forests of this vast landscape. It also includes the elusive fishing cat, which may also live there. At 18 million hectares, the Dawna Tenasserim is the largest contiguous forested area in mainland Southeast Asia, with an incredible 82 percent still forested. Yet few people in Myanmar and Thailand are aware that they live next to one of the Planet’s great wilderness areas with so many amazing endangered cat species.
The seven, possibly eight cat species are holding on despite intense pressure from poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss due to land clearing for agriculture, unsustainable infrastructure and retaliation for killing livestock. And they are following a depressing trend of decline in large cats across Asia, such as the recent conclusion that the tiger and the leopard are now extinct in neighbouring Laos.
“The cat diversity and the overall size and quality of the forest habitat in the Dawna Tenasserim are remarkable,” says Regan Pairojmahakij, Dawna Tenasserim Transboundary Landscape Manager. “But the cats’ days are numbered unless the countries, and the world in general, recognize the value of this cradle of biodiversity and quickly step up to address the threats to it.”
Highlights from the report include:
The Dawna Tenasserim has 180-220 tigers and a recent Myanmar survey of just eight percent of the country’s potential tiger habitat showed at least 22 tigers. Large parts of their potential range have no protection.
In 2019 a tiger was recorded in Thailand’s Kui Buri National Park for the first time in 7 years.
Leopards, most likely extinct in Laos, Viet Nam and nearly extinct in Cambodia, still exist in the Dawna Tenasserim but are declining. The Indochinese sub-species is now critically endangered.
The stunning Asiatic golden cat thrives in the Dawna Tenasserim and has even been camera trapped in pairs there. However, they are one of the species living close to a proposed road in Myanmar which could threaten their existence.
Given up as extinct in Thailand, the jungle cat re-emerged in the Dawna-Tenasserim on camera trap images in 2017. It is listed as critically endangered by Government of Thailand due to hunting pressure and habitat loss.
In contrast to the jungle cat, the leopard cat is abundant throughout the Dawna Tenasserim and is the most commonly captured species on camera traps in Myanmar.
Fishing cat have been recorded recently outside the landscape and claims of their presence inside it persist – only further surveys will tell!
Camera trap surveys in 2018-2019 captured six of the seven species in Myanmar and Thailand.
Threats to the cat species include infrastructure development, poaching for the illegal wildlife trade and expansion of agriculture and plantations.
“It’s so rare to have such a rich diversity of cat species – and other large wildlife like elephants, gaur, banteng and two species of bears – within a single landscape in Southeast Asia .at present. The wildlife have already been exterminated in the vast plains and squeezed into these narrow mountains, and it would be a double tragedy if we lost them further to poachers’ snares and developers’ bulldozers,” says Yoganand Kandasamy, WWF-Greater Mekong Wildlife Lead.
The report highlights threats such as conversion of land for maize, rubber, cassava, oil palm, and betel nut. Land conversion and construction of roads accelerate the poaching threat by providing easier access to endangered species for poachers. Cheap, home-made snares can be set by the hundreds in these forests and they can kill or maim any creature that comes along. And the proposed Dawei-Htee Khee Road that will connect a deep sea port and Special Economic Zone in Dawei, Myanmar with Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia threatens to bisect elephant and tiger movement routes. Recent wildlife surveys highlight the fact that many wildlife exist along the proposed road.
“The very reason so many cat species persist in the Dawna Tenasserim is because of a combination of Thailand’s effective protected area management, the strong conservation ethic of local communities in both countries, and long-standing inaccessibility of areas in Southern Myanmar resulting in little incursion into forest areas,” says Nick Cox, Interim Country Director, WWF-Myanmar. “If this road is built, it should include world-class wildlife passages and other sustainable infrastructure elements.”
WWF’s 8-point action plan to save the Land of the Cats includes:
1) Greater investment in critical areas for feline populations; 2) increased feline biodiversity surveys and research on prey abundance and habitat needs; 3) identification and protection of wildlife corridors within and between countries; 4) strengthening of wildlife protection units on both sides of the border, increased law enforcement and community protection of wildlife and habitats; 5) increased engagement with local and indigenous communities; 6) high level recognition and protection of vital wildlife habitat in the Dawna Tenasserim; 7) a transboundary approach for monitoring and protection of larger, wide ranging species such as tigers; and 8) anticipating, tracking and working with national and regional infrastructure planning agencies to mitigate the negative impacts of major projects such as roads.
“The dedicated national park teams work day and night to protect these cats and recently got video footage of a healthy tiger in Thailand with a massive kill – a gaur – proving that with the right protection and habitat management, we can ensure the Dawna Tenasserim can provide healthy habitat for not only tigers but all endangered species,” says Arnold Sitompul, WWF Thailand Conservation Director.