The Karen Wildlife Conservation Initiative (KWCI) has recently become an official member of the Asian Ranger Federation (ARF) and the International Ranger Federation (IRF). The ARF and IRF aim to raise awareness of and support the critical work that the world’s park rangers do in conserving our natural and cultural heritage.
Founded in 1992, the IRF has a membership of 63 ranger associations from 46 countries, on six of the seven continents. The role of the IRF is to empower rangers by supporting their national or state ranger organizations, or assisting in the establishment of local ranger associations in countries where they do not currently exist.
Karen State, Burma is a recognised biodiversity hotspot and one of the few remaining regions in the world with a full component of top predators and an extensive prey base to support it. This unique wildlife situation has arisen from the inaccessibility of the region to poachers and illegal wildlife traders as a result of the bitter military conflict in the region that has lasted for more than half a century. As the Myanmar government advances with political reform, liberalisation and accessibility, the wildlife will inevitably come under increased threat as natural resources are utilised or from the increased accessibility of poachers to access remote areas rich in fauna and flora.
The Karen Wildlife Conservation Initiative (KWCI) is a multi-organisation group, including representation from the Karen Forestry Division of the Karen National Union (KNU), and was established in 2012 with the objective of conserving biodiversity and ensuring the protection of threatened wildlife in Karen State, Burma (Myanmar).
While the region is renowned for having a troubled history, conservation of globally important biodiversity and natural habitat should be a common unifying theme which can transcend ethnic, religious and territorial differences in the wider region. KWCI works progressively toward achieving its objectives while supporting the peaceful reconciliation process in Myanmar.
The training and deployment of specialist Wildlife Protection Units is a critical component of KWCI. The on-going poaching and extraction of endangered species from protected areas in Myanmar and neighbouring countries in the region presents a serious and immediate threat to the high value biodiversity of Karen State.
Insatiable demand for wildlife and pressure from illegal logging continues to increase as black markets in Asia expand. Myanmar and Thailand are major regional hubs that facilitate both the extraction and trade of endangered wildlife to supply these markets. To counter these threats and effectively secure protected areas in Karen State, two highly trained teams of rangers were deployed in December 2013. Operating under the Karen Forestry Department (KFD), these teams conduct continual monitoring and surveillance operations to ensure local and National Conservation Laws are effectively enforced.
Experts from the African Field Ranger Training College were engaged to conduct the initial training and establishment of these elite teams. More training is scheduled for 2015 when a third team will be established with a mandate to defend more threatened areas within the KWCI area of operation. The training and deployment of rangers will remain an on-going priority for KWCI to ensure the effective protection of wildlife in Karen State.