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Cablegate: Ci to Protect Burmese Turtles

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RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHGO #1686/01 3191002
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151002Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5421
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1247
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0024
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 4393
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1872
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 3616
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 7122
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 0562
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 4732
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA 0978
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0982

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 001686

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, OES/ENV/ETC; BANGKOK FOR REO

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV ECON PGOV BM
SUBJECT: CI TO PROTECT BURMESE TURTLES


RANGOON 00001686 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Despite Burma's unpredictable environment
for NGO activities, Conservation International (CI) recently
received provisional GOB approval for two major projects to
address threats to a number of animal species in Burma,
including the critically endangered Burmese Star Tortoise and
Arakan Forest turtle. Before signing formal MOUs, GOB
officials asked CI to conduct three limited projects: a
training course on tortoises and turtles, a rapid assessment
of species endemic to Indawgyi Lake area of Kachin state, and
an assessment of turtle breeding areas in Chindwin River
tributaries. CI plans to begin its work in Burma in 2007.
End summary.

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2. (SBU) On November 7, Conservation International's (CI)
Director for Indo-Burma, Jake Brunner, updated Econoff on two
proposed projects funded by grants from Blue Moon Fund and
KNCF, a corporate Japanese Fund. CI plans to collaborate with
Burmese universities on the conservation of endemic turtles
and tortoises, and pilot conservation incentive agreements
with Chin hunters living near the Rakhine Yoma Elephant
Sanctuary (RYES). CI received a license from Treasury/OFAC
for this work in January 2006.

3. (SBU) Despite an environment where NGOs face increasingly
tight controls and scrutiny, Brunner and Burma project
coordinator Myint Aung expressed optimism that CI would gain
all necessary approvals. Brunner said that all levels of
ministry officials had reviewed the proposals, and had sent
them on to the highest levels for final approval. Myint Aung
said that the Forestry Minster has already committed to
supporting the project and is writing a recommendation to the
Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank to allow CI to open an account that
is exempt from the standard 10% tax on foreign exchange
transactions. Brunner expects to sign Memoranda of
Understanding with the Ministry of Forestry, the Ministry of
Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Education
within the next few months.

4. (SBU) At a meeting on November 6, the Director General of
Fisheries asked CI to implement three smaller projects before
signing an MOU. Brunner agreed, and said CI now plans to
bring in foreign experts to offer a training session on
tortoises and turtles for University of Mandalay students in
January, and to conduct a rapid assessment of endemic species
in the Indawgyi Lake area of Kachin State in March. The third
project will investigate breeding grounds of an endangered
turtle in tributaries of the Chindwin River, where the GOB
plans to build a dam. The DG offered the support of his staff
in all of these locations.

5. (SBU) Once CI completes these smaller projects and signs
the MOUs, work on the two primary projects can begin. In the
first project, CI staff will work with Mandalay University,
Yadanabon Zoo, and Minsontaung Wildlife Sanctuary (MWS) in
Mandalay Division to protect the world's largest wild
population of critically endangered Burmese Star Tortoises.
The project will support captive breeding facilities at the
zoo and MWS; tortoise release and radio tracking; student-led
research; and community outreach and education. According to
Brunner, the Sanctuary warden was keen to cooperate, since he
was demoted recently because his sanctuary lost 39 Star
Tortoises to poachers over the past year.

6. (SBU) The second project will focus on ethnic Chin living
in Rakhine State. Over the past 100 years, a number of Chin
hunting groups have migrated south into Rakhine State to hunt
gaur, a large wild buffalo-like mammal, using dogs and spears.
They now pose a threat to the 175,000-hectare Rahkine Yoma
Elephant Sanctuary, created in 1999 to protect one of Burma's
largest wild elephant populations. Largely covered with
bamboo, the Sanctuary is also home to the critically
endangered Arakan Forest Turtle, as well as important
populations of wild cats, otters, and bears.

7. (SBU) According to Brunner and Myint Aung, the Chin are
interested in negotiating agreements that would link
development support to no-hunting contracts. They are proud
of their forest skills, Brunner reports, and could make
excellent wildlife monitors. The Sanctuary has only ten staff

RANGOON 00001686 002.2 OF 002


and needs further logistical support. Brunner said CI project
members will teach them community forestry, livestock farming
and agriculture skills, and offer them positions as wildlife
monitors in exchange for their commitment to cease hunting.

8. (SBU) Comment: CI has done its homework and possesses many
of the attributes needed to run a successful NGO project in
Burma: a detailed assessment of the current situation (CI's
study took two years); identification of well-qualified and
well-connected staff members; and full compliance with the
Treasury/OFAC vetting process. They have also lined up the
right support within the GOB to succeed, and the regime
generally allows environmental organizations freer access than
projects that have a potential political focus. If CI is able
to proceed with its projects in 2007 as planned, its efforts
would also serve as useful models for other groups in
designing programs that help protect Burma's threatened
environment while, at the same time, training and empowering
local communities to better appreciate and protect their own
natural resources. End comment.

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