Diverse Species “On the Brink” in Dawna Tenasserim, in Need of Urgent Conservation Action, WWF Report Says

Posted on 15 December 2021

New WWF report highlights unique and iconic species that are holding on to survival in the Dawna Tenasserim landscape - and what we can do to conserve them.

The mountain range stretching across the border of Myanmar and Thailand is the last stronghold for a number of iconic and rare species in mainland Southeast Asia - including tigers, leopards, and tapirs - which are increasingly threatened in the wild.

Dawna Tenasserim: Species on the Brink,” a new WWF report, highlights some of the endangered wild animals that inhabit this landscape and which are increasingly under threat. From the most recognizable species, like Asian elephants and Siamese crocodiles, to those that have a small but devoted following, like the Gurney’s pitta and the dhole, all of these species call the Dawna Tenasserim home.

Almost the size of Cambodia and containing the largest contiguous forested area in mainland Southeast Asia, the Dawna Tenasserim landscape contains 30,539 km2 of protected area, including the Western Forest Complex (WEFCOM) in Thailand, Southeast Asia’s most extensive protected area network. This landscape is the source for many of the region’s major rivers, including the Salween and Tanintharyi in Myanmar, and the Mae Khlong, Ping, and Phetchaburi watersheds in Thailand. 

This landscape is home to over 160 mammal and 560 bird species, but is continuing to undergo rapid land use change and expansion of human footprint. Unsustainable exploitation of timber and other natural resources, conversion of forests, weak enforcement of wildlife protection laws, and growing consumer demand for wildlife have led to habitat loss and wildlife population declines. The demand for wildlife comes from live caged “pets,” high value parts of species for traditional medicine, or animals for the wild meat trade. The global appetite for certain commodities such as oil palm, rubber, and maize fuel deforestation and human - wildlife conflict. 

“It’s so rare to have such a rich diversity of large wildlife like the elephant, banteng, tapir, tiger, and leopard within a single landscape in Southeast Asia,” said Yoganand Kandasamy, WWF-Greater Mekong’s Wildlife Lead. “So many species have already been lost in our region and those that remain are repressed into these last refugia. It would be a tragedy if we lost them even here through our inadequate actions; our actions must match the crisis at hand.”

Urgent action is needed if the Dawna Tenasserim is to continue to be a globally significant reservoir of biodiversity in the region. Now is the time for governments, conservation organizations, the private sector, and local communities to work together and commit to saving the iconic and threatened wildlife species that live in this vast forested area.

This report highlights threats such as conversion of forest for maize, construction of roads that give hunters easier access to remote habitats and endangered species. It also highlights the links between the illegal trade in pangolins and their potential as intermediary hosts for viruses, like the one that caused Covid-19. When pangolins are trafficked, they are often transported with other animals in cramped and stressful conditions, creating the perfect environment for diseases to be transmitted between species, and potentially to humans. Combatting wildlife trade and the poaching that supplies it are critical for species survival - including our own.

 "Lying at the intersection of the Himalayan, Indochinese, and Sumatran ecoregions, the Dawna Tenasserim Landscape is one of Asia’s largest forest ecosystems and a stronghold of many species that have disappeared elsewhere,” said Jake Brunner, Head of the Indo-Burma Group, IUCN. “The landscape is also home to hundreds of thousands of Karen whose nature-friendly customs are central to successful species and habitat conservation."

The report recommends the following urgent actions to protect the Dawna Tenaserrim’s species on the brink: 
1. Secure areas under effective protection and protect species from poaching and snaring;
2. Educate the public on the importance of these endangered species and the devastating consequences of purchasing, trafficking and hunting them;
3. Involve and  support local communities and Indigenous peoples in wildlife conservation goals;
4. Restore forest landscapes to help climate change mitigation, increase wildlife habitat and support local livelihoods;
5. Coordinate and share information across national borders to conserve species that don’t recognize political boundaries and to prevent the transboundary trade that threatens them;
6. Reintroduce locally extinct species to suitable, secure habitats under comprehensive conservation plans and to supplement depleted populations of crucial species.

For more information, please contact Mia Signs.

Clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, Thailand.
© Bruce W. Bunting/WWF-US
Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis)
© Shutterstock
Lar gibbon, Dawna Tenasserim, Myanmar.
© Christy Williams/WWF-Myanmar
Dawna Tenasserim: Species on the Brink report cover
© WWF-Greater Mekong