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Burma Struggles to Crack Down on Wildlife Consumption

  • Daniel Schearf

As international visitors flock to newly-opened Burma, authorities are struggling to crack down on restaurants at some tourist spots that have long featured endangered wildlife on their menus.

Catering to tourist

Buddhist devotees give offerings at the Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda, also known as the Golden Rock Pagoda, (File photo).
Buddhist devotees give offerings at the Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda, also known as the Golden Rock Pagoda, (File photo).
The pagoda on the Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo attracts thousands of visitors who ascend the steep mountain to see what appears as a miraculous balance.

Restaurant hawkers compete for their tourist dollars and some are catering to demands for exotic food, including endangered wildlife.

Demand for wild game

Htet Ko says they have been serving wild animal meat for 13 years, but since this article was translated into Burmese, officials inspect his family's restaurant every week, so they have to hide the meat.

"The local forestry ministry banned all kinds of wild animal dishes including our popular dishes like barking deer and sambur meat," he said. "However, 99 percent of visitors want to eat those kinds of wildlife food."

The San Let Tin Resort in Kyaiktiyo township may raise some eyebrows having the area's only zoo next to its restaurant.

But manager, Tint Swe Oo, insists the resort owner is an animal lover and says, unlike some restaurants, those in cages here are not on the menu.

"They [restaurant owners who serve wild animals] should stop selling it [wild animal meat] now. There are many other types of meat that can replace it," he said. "Wild animals should not be on the menu. I would like to see wild animals living in the forests peacefully."

Serving endangered wildlife has long been illegal here; but enforcement, before the new government, was lacking says temple official U Myint Swe.

Game for food enforced

Now, he says, they successfully stopped the trade in about 80 percent of restaurants.

"We cannot accept serving wildlife meat around the religious area. We can only allow selling normal meat that is approved by the government. Some restaurants have served wildlife food secretly before," U Myint Swe explained. "However, the numbers of those restaurants are decreasing because of the inspections by officials."

Meanwhile, vendors openly sell animal parts as traditional medicine.

U Myint Swe says protectionists have discussed better safeguards for endangered wildlife with United Nations organizations.

He says they would welcome more enforcement efforts.