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Myanmar Plan to Breed Protected Species in Captivity Draws Criticism

2020-07-15 14:48:31
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BANGKOK — Myanmar will soon adopt rules that would permit captive breeding of about 175 threatened species, including tigers, pangolins and Irrawaddy dolphins, despite fears that such ventures could encourage poaching of wild animals and spawn new diseases that jump to humans.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation quietly circulated a list of wildlife last month that could be raised commercially for display in zoos, tourist attractions or hotels and, in a handful of cases, to produce meat for sale to the public.

Government officials assert that the list is aimed at improving wildlife protection by reducing illegal hunting and increasing conservation under a 2018 law. The government is expected to issue detailed rules on commercial breeding in coming months, said U Naing Zaw Htun, the ministry’s director of wildlife conservation.

But international conservation groups said the plan could undermine wildlife protection by increasing demand for wild meat and for species used in traditional medicine.

“Commercial trade has been shown to increase illegal trade in wildlife by creating a parallel market and boosting overall demand for wild animal products,” the World Wildlife Fund and Fauna and Flora International said in a joint statement questioning the government plan.

The list posted on government websites identifies 89 species of mammals, birds and reptiles, including such rare creatures as the helmeted hornbill, the Bengal slow loris and the white-handed gibbon.

The list also includes a reference to snakes as a broad category. At least 100 snake species in Myanmar are threatened, including the Burmese python, the spitting cobra and the Russell’s viper, said U Kyi Soe Lwin, manager of the privately run Yangon Zoological Garden.

Conservationists contend that commercial breeding of protected wildlife would undermine efforts to protect endangered species. Captive breeding has little conservation value, they say, because such animals are rarely suited for release in the wild.

Animal experts and conservationists said that at least 175 of the species covered by the list are considered threatened in Myanmar or globally.

It is unclear whether the rules would allow endangered animals to be captured in the wild.

Under the ministry’s plan, eight species can be commercially farmed for meat, including at least one that is listed as threatened in Myanmar — the estuarine, or saltwater, crocodile. Mr. Naing Zaw Htun, the government official, defended the inclusion of the crocodile because breeding it for its meat and skin is already permitted.

Keeping wildlife for human consumption, especially in crowded Asian markets, has been linked to viruses that have infected humans, including the coronavirus that has caused the current pandemic and SARS, which emerged in 2002 and killed nearly 800 people worldwide.

Conservationists and health experts have urged governments around the world to curb consumption of wild meat, or bush meat, as it is sometimes known.

“Commercial wildlife breeding and trade can also increase the risk of disease spillover from wildlife to humans, such as Covid-19,” the World Wildlife Fund and Fauna and Flora International said.

The pangolin, which at one point was suspected of playing a part in the transmission of the new coronavirus, could be bred in Myanmar zoos under the new regulations.

Both of the country’s species, the Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin, are critically endangered, said U Nay Myo Shwe, a wildlife expert with Fauna and Flora International.

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