First Salween biodiversity survey reveals endangered species threatened by dams

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KESAN Press Release 26 September 2008

By Karen Environmental and Social Action Network

The first detailed survey of the biodiversity of Burma’s Salween River by indigenous researchers has identified over forty endangered plant and animal species which are being threatened by plans to build a series of large hydropower dams and ongoing military actions.

“Khoe Kay: Biodiversity in Peril,” by the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) details the rich biodiversity of Khoe Kay on the Salween River opposite Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province. The area includes the site of the planned Weigyi Dam, one of five giant hydropower dams planned for the Salween River by the Burmese, Thai and Chinese governments.

Using traditional and academic methods of research, the KESAN team identified 194 plant species and 200 animals, forty-two of which are considered endangered by the World Conservation Union. One example is the Hairy faced bat, Myotis annectans. Over 2 dozen endemic and unknown species are also present, including eight endemic fish species identified by Dr. Chavalit Vidthayanon of WWF-Thailand. The report shows that the Salween River still contains amazing biodiversity, and deserves more attention from international scientists.

According to KESAN Activist Ko Shwe, “the Karen people depend on a healthy Salween ecosystem, including fish, forest products, riverside gardens and transportation. The proposed dams will ruin the ecosystem and the free flowing river, kill the surrounding forests and destroy the lives of thousands of people.”

The report also predicts further extreme impacts to the environment. These include greenhouse gas emissions, changes in flow and sedimentation, and perhaps most significantly, the cumulative effects of building and operating several cascading dams. While many parties have studied their own dam proposals on the Salween, no one has ever examined the effects of all the proposed dams together. Militarization of the area is also increasing, and has already resulted in the loss of one severely endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros. KESAN promotes further research into this highly endangered ecosystem, and urges a halt to dam construction until impacts can be understood and alleviated.