The isolated Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve, which is about the size of Vermont, could potentially support several hundred tigers. Currently, conservationists estimate that as few as 50 tigers survive in the area.
In 1999, staff from Myanmar’s
Forest Department and WCS-Myanmar, together with Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, currently CEO of the wild cat conservation organization Panthera, participated in the first ever
biological expedition of the Hukaung Valley. Their work helped lead to the 2004 decision by Myanmar's government
to designate 2,500 square miles of the valley as a wildlife sanctuary.
“I have dreamt of this day for many years,” said Rabinowitz. “The strides we made in 2004 were groundbreaking, but protecting this entire valley to ensure tigers are able to live and roam freely is a game changer. This reserve is one of the most important stretches of tiger habitat in the world, and I am thrilled that the people and government of Myanmar understand the importance of preserving it.”
The latest designation extends the protected area by an additional 4,248
square miles. The expansion is the result of years of work with
local community groups, recent settlers, and businesses to transform local townships into multi-use areas that serve the needs of both people and wildlife.
The designation of the last expanses of closed forest in
the Indo-Pacific region as a protected area is a boon to other species,
too. The valley shelters large
mammals such as clouded leopards and Asian elephants.
Approximately 370 bird species, including the critically endangered
rufous-necked hornbill, live in the region, and many rely on its important wetlands. Impressively, about 7,000 plant species grow in the
Hukaung Valley and nowhere else on the planet.
Tiger-range state leaders, donor nations and multilateral institutions will come together this fall in St. Petersburg, Russia at a summit meeting, where they will make firm commitments to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022. U.S. government leadership and participation will be critical to the success of this effort. Organizations such as WCS and Panthera have promoted protecting areas with viable tiger populations—known as "tiger source sites"—and are seeking recognition and protection for these areas via greater federal attention and an international commitment to saving tigers.