Myanmar’s Wild Sheep And Goats Need Better Protection
Unlike other countries in Southeast Asia, Myanmar’s species richness is high while its forests are currently under low threat. Myanmar has signed on to international conservation agreements such as CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, Myanmar is quickly losing its wild animals as illegal trade and hunting are on the rise.
One overlooked group of animals is wild sheep and goats. These animals include various species of serow, takin, goral, and blue sheep, all of which are prohibited from being traded under CITES Appendix I (with the exception of blue sheep). Nevertheless, these animals are subject to slaughter for meat, traditional medicine, and trophies.
The goal of this study was to reveal the scale of the wild sheep and goat trade in Myanmar, including the number of animals killed and hotspots for trade. The authors relied on three types of data: official seizure data from the Myanmar government between 2000-2020, observations of wild animal markets and traditional medicine outlets around Myanmar from 2000-2017, and existing literature on the topic that included hunter and trader interviews, trade records, observations, and seizure data. Although the authors estimated the minimum number of animals killed to obtain the products observed through the data, they note that their estimates are likely lower than what is actually happening.
Overall, the trade of wild sheep and goats is widespread and persistent. According to the seizure data, products from at least 128 animals (specifically serows, takin, and gorals) were confiscated between 2000-2020. At the markets and wild animal shops, the authors observed products from at least 1,041 wild sheep and goats being sold at four key markets in Kyaiktiyo, Mong La, Tachilek, and Three Pagoda Pass. The existing literature recorded products from a minimum of 1517 wild sheep and goats.
Across the dataset, serows were the most common species traded, followed by takin or gorals. In the market observations and third-party literature, blue sheep and Tibetan antelopes were also used in trade. The authors note that the presence of Tibetan antelopes is especially concerning as these animals are not native to Myanmar. As such, trading them is a violation of CITES being conducted out in the open. The most common body parts traded were individual horns, followed by skull plates with horns, newly-killed animal heads with horns attached, and skulls with horns attached.
While the demand for wild sheep and goats comes from within Myanmar, the authors argue that a significant customer base comes from its bordering countries India, China, and Thailand. While cross-border trafficking violates international regulations, the authors claim that weak enforcement, political instability, and prominent levels of corruption in Myanmar allow for it to happen.
A number of things can be done to curb this illegal trade. First, wild sheep and goats need to receive more conservation attention with more emphasis placed on monitoring their population status. Second, enforcement agencies within Myanmar need to make a more concerted effort to enforce anti-trafficking laws and prosecute those who violate them. Finally, though it wasn’t mentioned in the study, it’s important for advocates to understand the local social and cultural factors driving the wild sheep and goat trade. Only then can we begin to encourage consumers away from these products while being sensitive to their unique dynamics.