Lorenzo Gaffi, Sun Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Filippo Zibordi, Wildlife Consultant, Istituto Oikos
Leonardo Gueli, Country Representative (Myanmar), Istituto Oikos

The first-ever “Stakeholders Consultation Meeting on Bear Conservation in Myanmar” was organized in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, on March 13, 2018, to promote bear conservation in Myanmar. The meeting provided the opportunity to share data and experiences among local and international experts, governmental institutions and general stakeholders. The goal of the event was to assess threats to bears (sun bears, Helarctos malayanus; Asiatic black bears, Ursus thibetanus) and opportunities for their conservation in Myanmar. The initiative was organized by Istituto Oikos’ Sun Bear Conservation Project, which aims to foster the protection of sun bears and their habitats in Myanmar.

Representatives of the main environmental NGOs (non-government organizations), members of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, zoo managers, academics and governmental authorities took part in the event. The presence of the Forest Department (FD) Director General and Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division (NWCD) Director granted official status to the initiative. The Director General confirmed the commitment of the government in preventing habitat losses and tackling wildlife trade by establishing protected areas and collaborating with NGOs.

The speakers gave presentations on bear biology, ecology and population status in Myanmar and Southeast Asia, illegal bear trade and bear farms, habitat loss, captive bear centers, and education activities focused on bears. Projections of current and future bear population decline were presented by a representative of IUCN’s Bear Specialist Group. A central topic of the meeting was the possibility for Myanmar to establish a wildlife rescue center. This action could boost law enforcement by providing a standardized procedure for maintaining seized bears and combat trade of live animals. Free The Bears Foundation presented its strategy for tackling illegal bear trade in Southeast Asia. They also described the operating principles of bear rescue centers.

Participants in the Stakeholders Consultation Meeting on Bear Conservation in Myanmar, held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, on March 13, 2018. Photo credit: Myanmar Forest Department

Participants in the Stakeholders Consultation Meeting on Bear Conservation in Myanmar, held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, on March 13, 2018.
Photo credit: Myanmar Forest Department

All the participants highlighted the importance of community engagement in conservation: bright examples of awareness raising activities were brought by Education for Nature Vietnam, which launched massive education campaigns against bear farming by involving social influencers as artists, actors, singers and web stars in Vietnam. The local Myanmar NGOs BANCA and Friends of Wildlife presented data on bear trafficking in Myanmar, with focus on the border areas where most of the illegal wildlife markets are located. Wildlife Conservation Society and Istituto Oikos gave updates on the current research on sun bears and presented their strategy for community engagement at the project sites.

Group discussion participants: Brian Crudge (Free The Bears – FTB), Win Naing Taw (Forest Department's Nature & Wildlife Conservation Division - NWCD), Grant Connette (Smithsonian Institute), Lorenzo Gaffi (Istituto Oikos), Maung Maung Kyi (Rakhine Coastal Region Conservation Association - RCA), Hla Naing (Wildlife Conservation Society - WCS), Ms. Dung Nguyen (Education for Nature Vietnam – ENV), Tun Oo (Friends of Wildlife – FOW). Photo credit: Filippo Zibordi

Group discussion participants: Brian Crudge (Free The Bears – FTB), Win Naing Taw (Forest Department’s Nature & Wildlife Conservation Division – NWCD), Grant Connette (Smithsonian Institute), Lorenzo Gaffi (Istituto Oikos), Maung Maung Kyi (Rakhine Coastal Region Conservation Association – RCA), Hla Naing (Wildlife Conservation Society – WCS), Ms. Dung Nguyen (Education for Nature Vietnam – ENV), Tun Oo (Friends of Wildlife – FOW).
Photo credit: Filippo Zibordi

The importance of bycatch data from camera trap surveys was underscored by Fauna and Flora International. The presence of bears in several regions of Myanmar has been confirmed recently by camera trapping. Smithsonian Institute provided insight on bear habitat loss in Myanmar by presenting satellite images and land cover maps that showed that deforestation is dramatically reducing wilderness areas, likely affecting populations of forest species.

The event concluded with a panel discussion of experts from the organizations presenting at the meeting and the NWCD Director. The legal framework for bear conservation was assessed in light of the new wildlife law to be issued in the coming months. Sharing data among organizations and other institutions was encouraged in order to maximize research efforts and avoid overlap and repetition. International experts were asked to share their “lessons learnt” and experiences in bear conservation in Southeast Asia. Primary actions for bear conservation in Myanmar were identified. More research is needed in order to understand bear population trends and priority areas for conservation. Education and awareness raising at local and national levels should be aimed at reducing harvest and demand of wildlife products. NGOs should work in collaboration with the Forest Department and local authorities in order to foster law enforcement, and trainings and resources should be provided as well. Subsistence hunters should be offered alternative livelihoods through the implementation of community development projects. Finally, advocacy to politicians for effective environmental laws and support to conservation groups by the authorities was deemed essential to ensure environmental sustainability.

In conclusion, the issues discussed during the meeting were many and not easy to solve. Saving sun bears and Asiatic black bears will require sharing knowledge, data, and best practices among all the stakeholders involved. In this framework, the meeting has helped outline each actor’s tasks, and the future drafting of a specific management plan will undoubtedly boost wider stakeholder collaboration for bear conservation in Myanmar.

The proceedings of the meeting will soon be available at: http://www.istituto-oikos.org/projects/sunbear-en

Acknowledgements
Istituto Oikos thanks all “Sun Bear Conservation Project” partners who supported and made possible the organization of this meeting: Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division (NWCD), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Rakhine Coastal Region Conservation Association (RCA), University of Insubria, Milano Bicocca University. The organization is grateful to the donor, Fondation Segré for sustaining the project and contributing to bear conservation in Myanmar. Special thanks to the Ministry Of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) and to the Forest Department for their participation and for their constant support to the project activities.

Lorenzo Gaffi

Member: Sun Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Wildlife Programme Officer, Istituto Oikos
35, Shan Kone st. Sanchaung Township, Yangon, Myanmar
Email: lorenzo.gaffi@istituto-oikos.org

Filippo Zibordi

Wildlife Consultant, Istituto Oikos
Via Crescenzago 1 – 20134 Milano, Italy
Email: filippo.zibordi@istituto-oikos.org

Leonardo Gueli

Country Representative (Myanmar), Istituto Oikos
35, Shan Kone st. Sanchaung Township, Yangon, Myanmar
Email: gueli.oikos@gmail.com

originally published in International Bear News 2018 Summer Vol. 27 No. 2 on pages 21-22