One of the largest lakes in Southeast Asia, Indawgyi and its environs supports more than species of animalsincluding many considered endangered or vulnerable. It also provides a home to thousands of migratory birds from as far away as Siberia each winter.
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These birds are now under threat, as heavy metals exposed by mining practices have entered the food chain. Also at risk are at least three endemic species of fish found nowhere else in the world. Momberg says FFI surveys have found other new species in small streams that feed into the lake. But Indawgyi should have been different.
The Myanmar government designated the region for ecological conservation inand submitted a proposal with UNESCO to register the reserve as an ecological World Heritage Site in A tough life Maing Naung, one of 39 villages inside the reserve, is about 7 kilometres south of Lonton at the southwestern corner of the lake. In an earthen-floor teashop near the centre of town, gem trader U Zaw Min gestures over his shoulder toward the forest west of the shop.
Like those working in the notorious jade mines of Hpakantjust 60km away, many are addicted to heroin or methamphetamines. Residents say attempts to limit the impact made by illegal mining are made more difficult by the fact that many excavations lie in territory controlled by the non-state armed group, the Kachin Independence Army KIA.
Miners claim the organisation levies taxes on them, an allegation echoed by local campaigners but denied by a representative of the group. Gem trader U Zaw Min explains the situation. The boss of the gold mine pays a tax to be allowed in. Most villagers in the area are loyal to the armed group, which has been engaged in a decades-long civil war with the Tatmadaw over demands for autonomy and rights to natural resources in Kachin State, she says.
But Ma Su Hla Phyu also complains that some government inspectors charged with protecting the reserve are more interested in taking bribes than safeguarding the lake. She added that even higher-ranking authorities show little inclination to enforce a proper clampdown. Research by the FFI conducted in May shows that invasive plant life is growing on a newly formed delta that spreads out from the shore near Maing Naung.
More than acres of the sanctuary have been damaged, including the acres of water now filled with sediment.
Rice is cultivated adjacent to the lake in some low-elevation areas, while mixed deciduous forest, riverine evergreen forest, and hill pine forest cover the uplands in the watershed. Half of ILWS is forest; one-third is non-rice wetland. Species in ILWS include globally threatened waterbirds and endemic fish and turtle species. It has outstanding value for birds, containing three CR and two EN species, as well as aggregations of four congregatory waterbirds that comprise a large portion of their global populations.
It contains one endemic turtle and at least three endemic fish species. ILWS provides habitat for 10 globally threatened bird species and is of outstanding value for the conservation of migrating waterbirds.