MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Myanmar's river dolphins declining, face becoming endangered

Published by MAC on 2003-01-01

Gold Mining Risks to People - and Dolphins - in Burma

from: Eric Snider, Canada

During a visit to Burma's Kachin state last week General Khin Nyunt took time out to urge the people of Mogaung and Mohnyin townships to be on guard to "ward off foreign instigations" and "forces, relying on big powers, [who] are trying to hinder our efforts for the development of the State."

[source: New Light of Myanmar, January 1 2003]

Hopefully, the general also took time out to "listen" to some of the real concerns of those he was busy lecturing. A news item broadcast by DVB radio on January 1 spoke of risks facing the people from landslides resulting from mining operations along the Ayeyawaddy which are also polluting the river thoughout the state. "Quicksilver [mercury]used in extracting gold is poisoning water and threatening numerous species of fish and aquatic plants. ... Pollutants, silt and suspended particles in the river mean that it is no longer safe to drink or swim."

If the general and his cronies need any hard evidence to convince them of the poisonous effects of quicksilver and the explosives used for some fishing operations along the river they should look at the findings of a recent survey carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Society on the dramatic decline in the number of dolphins in the Ayewaddy (see following article).

No need for the generals and the Kachin people to go after "foreign instigators" to get to the root of this problem. Just get started by having a heart to heart talk with the Northern Region Commander in Myitkyina and the directors of the Northern Star Trading company who are responsible for all the permits being issued to "fly-by-night" out-of-state mining operators. Not even $ 350-an-ounce-gold is worth paying the price of poisoning your own people.

Myanmar's river dolphins declining, face becoming endangered: report

Agence France Presse - 05 Jan 03

Yangon - The number of dolphins living in Myanmar's Irrawaddy river has declined in recent years and the animals are now at risk of becoming an endangered species, according to a survey reported by the Myanmar Times.

The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found just 37 dolphins in a 550 kilometre (340 mile) stretch of the river between Bhamo in northern Kachin state and Mingun near the ancient city of Mandalay, compared to 59 animals in a 1998 survey.

WCS zoologist Brian Smith told the semi-official weekly newspaper published Monday that it was surprising the survey conducted in November and December had found no evidence of Irrawaddy dolphins downstream from Mingun. "We had assumed we would find them between Mingun and Bogalay (about 120 kilometres or 75 miles southwest of the capital Yangon in the Irrawaddy delta)," he said.

"The population of the dolphins is isolated to a limited area," he said, adding that the survey indicated the mammals were at risk of becoming an endangered species in Myanmar.

Smith said the main threat to the dolphins were nets, the use of electrical charges to catch fish and mercury run-off from gold mines along the river. The zoologist said Irrawaddy dolphins were distinctive because they enjoyed a cooperative relationship with fishermen, indicating to them where fish could be caught in abundance.

The only other country where such a relationship existed between men and freshwater dolphins was in Brazil, he said.

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