Myanmar is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots on the planet. Intersecting three major biogeographic regions, it is well-known for its high species richness, including many animals and plants found nowhere else in the world.
Myanmar is a stronghold for several globally threatened and endangered species, including tigers and elephants, as well as lesser-known species such as Irrawaddy dolphin, Eld’s deer, Gurney’s pitta, and Burmese star tortoise.
Myanmar is pivotal to biodiversity knowledge and conservation science in Asia. Though Myanmar is rich in natural resources, it is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Historically, Myanmar was the world’s leading exporter of teak, rice, and gems, but political and economic isolation over the past 50 years has created severe hardships for its people. Lack of investment in critical sectors has exacerbated poverty, which is higher in Myanmar than almost anywhere else in Southeast Asia.
The Smithsonian Institution has worked in Myanmar for more than 20 years. As one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in the world, it is a top priority country for Smithsonian’s biodiversity conservation.
Working through an extensive in-country network, Smithsonian staff have conducted more science and trained more local staff than any other international organization in Myanmar.
Smithsonian scientists collected thousands of species, including 70 species new to science. A recent BBC-Smithsonian expedition surveyed several protected areas, finding large and endangered wildlife species, many of which are extinct in other Southeast Asian countries.
An expanded and well-managed protected area system in Myanmar is essential to safeguard the economic benefits of ecosystem services and a sustainable base for tourism and related development.
The Smithsonian sees this time as critical to scale our work and invest in biodiversity conservation in Myanmar
Recent political changes and reforms in Myanmar have opened the door for investment and development. As economic sectors like agriculture, plantations, extractive industries, and transportation rapidly expand, urgent capacity development is required to manage and safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The Smithsonian is currently working with Myanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry and other partners to enhance science-based decision-making and improve access to accurate data – ranging from basic taxonomic information to GIS mapping – to inform sound policy and practice. Smithsonian is exploring funding opportunities to develop a robust program to accomplish this long-term work.