Bagan's rare birds need protection

Four rare bird species native to central Burma’s Bagan region are at risk of their habitat being destroyed, according to ornithologists.

During a speech at an eco-tourism workshop in Rangoon, bird expert Thein Aung, from the Myanmar Bird and Nature Society, called for greater protection for the birds of Bagan.

He said four rare bird species that live in Bagan’s archaeological zone — the White-throated Blabber, Lerdon’s Minivet, the Burmese Bushlark and the Hooded Treepie — are being threatened by an increase of tourists flocking to see the ancient temples.

“Visitors who come to Bagan on cultural tours are switching to bird watching as all four endemic bird species live in the archaeological zone,” he said.

There has been an increase in calls from archaeologists to preserve the crumbling temples, but Thein Aung believes the same protection should be afforded to the birds that live among the heritage sites.

“We found owls nesting in gaps between the bricks of the temples. Are we going to just protect the sites of archaeological value but not the owls? What if they are an endangered species?” he asked.

Burma is enjoying a boom in tourism since the country opened its gates to the outside world three years ago, and iconic sites such as Bagan attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

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But Thein Aung said tourists are directly threatening the birds’ habitat. Birds are losing their roosting spots due to parties thrown for tourists.

“I was waiting for the birds to roost but there was a party right next to the roosting spot,” he said. “I realised that if bird experts can point out where their sleeping and nesting sites are, it will allow the hotel and tourism operators to avoid these spots.”

Birdwatching tours in Bagan are becoming increasingly popular with bird-loving tourists. Thein Aung said it is important that tourism companies promote the conservation of not only the heritage sites, but of Bagan’s birds and wildlife.

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