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Rare deer faces extinction in Sagaing sanctuary

File photo of a female Eld's deer (Photo: Wikimedia)

A rare species of deer that has been endangered for decades could soon vanish completely from a wildlife conservation area in northern Burma’s Sagaing Division.

The Eld’s deer, known as the “golden deer” in Burmese, is rapidly disappearing from the Chatthin Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected forest that stretches from Kanbalu to Kawlin townships, covering an area of more than 260 km2.

An official from the sanctuary told DVB that the chief culprit is illegal hunting, which has increased even as the number of deer continues its steady decline.

“The hunters are not like before, coming just one or two at a time,” said the official, who asked not to be identified. “Now they come in groups of 7 to 10 hunters, using handmade shotguns.”

He added that because staff at the sanctuary are not permitted to carry firearms, they are often reluctant to confront hunters, who have been known to shoot at forestry officials trying to crack down on poaching.

“It’s very difficult to stop them,” he said.

A little over a decade ago, there were an estimated 2,000 Eld’s deer living in the sanctuary, moving around in herds of more than 100 animals. However, over the past five years, that number has fallen dramatically. The latest estimates put the number at around 400, with herd sizes now rarely exceeding 10 animals.

In addition to he Eld’s deer, the sanctuary is home to some 360 mammal species, 1,235 bird species and 360 reptile species.

Established in 1941, the sanctuary employs 34 staff and is accessible from the village of Chatthin, which is located about two hours’ drive away on an unpaved road.

There are three villages located within the sanctuary and another 20 or so around its edges, making it more accessible to local people, who have traditionally used the forest to supplement their subsistence income as farmers.

Besides hunting for animals, local villagers also forage for edible roots and other plants in the sanctuary.