Fom April 23 to May 2, 2013, a film crew from the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) spent time in the Megatha Wildlife Sanctuary in Dooplaya District of Karen State, Myanmar/Burma, for the purpose of documenting the status of the wildlife and forests in the sanctuary. The trip started after permission was granted by the central Karen Forestry Department.
As planned, four BBC representatives, assisted by two members of KESAN and Ti Po Kwa, the secretary of the Dooplaya District Forestry Department and his crew, and 20 local villagers, entered the Megatha Wildlife Sanctuary on April 23, 2013 to begin work. Ti Che Poe and Toe Poe who used to be hunters and are now conservationists, also accompanied the team.
From the entrance of the Megatha Wildlife Sanctuary, the group walked for two days into the heart of the Megatha forest. Under the guidance of Ti Po Kwa, Ti Che Poe and Toe Poe, the BBC filmed the local flora and fauna, interviewed locals and set up camera traps. Two weeks before shooting began, Wee Eh Htoo, KESAN's wildlife conservation co-coordinator, also placed 38 camera traps in different areas of the Megatha Sanctuary as instructed by the BBC group in hopes of catching local wildlife on camera.
The BBC film crew was shooting for the Expedition series, where the team treks into remote areas with the goal of filming wildlife. In Karen State, the crew was hoping to find wild animals including deer, tapirs, gaurs, bears, elephants, leopards and tigers.
One of the members of BBC group explains;
“"We want to find out what animals are living in Megatha Wildlife Sanctuary and whether endangered species still survive in this forest. We are very interested in the deep connection between the Karen people and nature and hope that this relationship will help to protect the forest and its wildlife for the future."”
Little has been done in the way of film documentation in this area due to over 60 years of civil unrest, and this was the first time that any international wildlife documentation has been recorded in the Megatha Sanctuary.
Wee Eh Htoo discusses the importance of documentation in Karen State:
"It is important for us that the world knows our work for conservation during the civil war. We hope that if the filming of the Megatha forest has a good outcome, then, in the future, when the political situation becomes stable, and when the Karen has the right to control our land, we will have the opportunity to film other forests in Karen State."
Burma's recent political reform has the world’s attention, and with projects such as this one, Karen people are given a platform on which to discuss issues which are important to them and affect their livelihoods.
Another KESAN staff member, Moowah, said;
“This is a good chance for us to show people around the world that we still have our forest and our wild animals, and they need to be protected. We want to protect them before it is too late. We don’t want our country to look like a place with no forest and wild animals. We want it to be rich with biodiversity. Although we have been working and advocating for the protection of this forest, we still have many challenges. Therefore, I hope the Megatha Wildlife Sanctuary will become well known and recognized by people around the world through future documentation done by the BBC. The more people know, the more people will support us and the more people support us, the easier it will be to protect this forest.”
About the challenges for the Megatha Wildlife Sanctuary conservation, the Dooplaya District Forestry Department secretary, Tee Po Kwa, said:
“To make sure the Megatha Wildlife Sanctuary is saved, first we need to stop people from hunting our wildlife. To stop people, it is important that our forestry department members or the villagers are always or often present in the forest. But we have very few forestry department staff. If we are going to ask them or the villagers to stay and patrol in the forest, we need to support them with food and other supplies. We also need to support the family they leave in the village because we have taken the person earning the household income from them. These are some of our challenges, since we have few financial resources.”
Wee Eh Htoo's hope for the future of Megatha is that "the villagers will participate in conservation, and it will be a place for the international community to come and visit the Megatha forest."
The Megatha Wildlife Sanctuary is a lush, green, diverse forest home to many different species, and many Karen people are working to preserve and conserve this area. It was proposed for designation as a wildlife sanctuary in 1982 by a KNU forest officer named P’ Doh Saw Tha Pyu (the head of Dooplaya District Forest Department during that time). The total area is about 156 km2. The proposal was approved by the KNU Forest Department in 1989, and this forest has since been recognized as wildlife sanctuary under KNU rule.
KESAN would like to thank the BBC Expedition team, Megatha Wildlife Sanctuary, and the local villagers for their work on the film shoot. We hope that it is just the beginning of this caliber of research in Karen State.