The development of the destinations is part of a community-conservation project funded by the UK's Darwin Initiative. It is a partnership between the Myanmar non-profit organisations 'Grow Back for Posterity' and Myanmar Bird and Nature Society and the UK's Harrison Institute. The project has also received valuable support from the University of Mandalay.
Conservation and the community
The development of the two destinations of Myitkangyi and Hsithe has three primary aims:
1: Conserving the environment of the Irrawaddy River dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris)
and other wildlife on the Ayeyarwady River
2: Conservng the traditional culture of cooperative fishing with dolphins with cast nets
3: Providing additional income for two fishing communities who have traditionally fished
cooperatively with the dolphins.
Irrawaddy River dolphins
Over the years, the wonderful, critically endangered river dolphins have become increasingly rare. At one time, there were thought to be as few as 50 individuals remaining between Mandalay and Bhamo. However, there is possibly some good news with recent reports suggesting that finally numbers may be increasing, if only slightly. The latest report states that there are some 76 individuals, although many threats remain (see a report on the Threats to Wildlife in the Upper Ayeyarwady River (Bagan to Bhamo Sector).
Most of dolphins live in the 'Irrawaddy Dolphin Protected Area', which is situated between Mingun
and Kyaukmyaung but which will soon be extended 118 km to the north. Both Hsithe and Myitkangyi are located within this protected area. We ask all tourists to ensure that guides and those operating boats always treat the dolphins with respect and follow basic guidelines. Additional, more detailed information is available in a specially produced training manual.
Despite being rare, individuals, pairs, and small pods of Irrawaddy Dolphins are frequently seen at Hsithe and Myitkangyi and even now, the fishermen and women of these villages still sometimes fish cooperatively with the dolphins. This is how it works:
1: The fishermen summon the dolphins by tapping a conical wooden pin, a Labai Kway, on the
side of the boat
2: If the dolphins agree to help the fishermen, one animal slaps the water surface with its tail flukes
3: One or two dolphins swim in smaller and smaller circles corralling the fish towards the shore
4: Finally with a wave of their half-submerged flukes, the dolphins then deliver a concentrated mass of fish to the fishermen and signal them to cast their net (based on Smith and Mya Than Tun, 2007).
The above photograph was taken by Brian Smith of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and illustrates cooperative fishing with dolphins in Myanmar; see also this great video.
A report on the Cultural Heritage of the Ayeyarwady River has recently been compiled.
Working to improve the environment
As well as being the eyes and ears of the conservation movement, helping to protect the dolphins and other wildlife, the fishermen/fisherwomen are also working to improve the environment of their communities. The project ran a series of workshops and training days focusing on waste management and other issues. These were primarily aimed at the children and included talks, games, competitions and communal lunches.
In 2017, it was awarded 'Best Community Involvement in Tourism' in Myanmar and was praised for "strong commitment to minimising environmental impacts".
Ma Hnin Witt Yee, Project Reservations Manager, Yangon on 09 250 640 728 or email firstname.lastname@example.org