Myanmar's peacock: a national symbol dying off in the wild

August 24, 2016 by Reuben Easey
Rampant poaching and habitat loss under decades of military rule have slashed Myanmar's peacock population

Embraced by kings and freedom fighters alike, Myanmar's peacocks have long been a national symbol of pride and resistance—but they are becoming ever harder to spot in the wild.

Ornithologist Thet Zaw Naing is worried. Every year that goes by, Myanmar's national bird becomes a less familiar sight.

"They always walk on the ground and they sleep in trees at night," he tells AFP.

"And before they go to sleep, they always cry 'Oway Oway'. That's why people can know easily where they are and easily capture them."

Decades ago the birds, with their bright green plumage and famously ostentatious male tail feathers, were ubiquitous.

But like so many of Myanmar's most iconic flora and fauna, rampant poaching and habitat loss under decades of unaccountable junta rule has hit their numbers hard.

For Myanmar, the declining peacock population is more than just a conservation tragedy—it's a blow to the national psyche.

The bird occupies a lofty place in the country's culture.

For decades it was the official symbol of Burma's last kings, the Konbaung dynasty. Their monarchs wore peacock insignia on their robes and famously sat atop the Peacock Throne until their rule was toppled by British colonialists.

The peacock was for decades the official symbol of Burma's last kings, the Konbaung dynasty

During his fight against the British in the early twentieth century, independence hero Aung San—the father of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi—created a magazine named the "Fighting Peacock".

Years later, Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy adopted the same bird as their party emblem in their long years of struggle against military rule.

Whenever protests broke out on the streets of Yangon, peacock flags could be seen fluttering above the crowds.

'Serious decline'

Now elevated to the role of Foreign Minister and State Counselor since her party swept to victory in last year's elections, Suu Kyi delivers press conferences besides visiting dignitaries in front of an embroidered peacock wall hanging.

But some worry the birds will soon only be visible inside history books and political rallies unless action is taken.

The peacock has been a political symbol for Myanmar democracy hero Aung San Suu Kyi and her father Aung San

Having once ranged from India to Indonesia, the green peafowl, as its officially known, is in severe decline.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently lists the species as endangered on their red list.

"It has undergone a serious decline and the only sizeable remaining populations are found in dry forests in Cambodia, Myanmar and west-central Vietnam," the IUCN says, adding pockets still persist in northern Thailand, southern Laos, China's Yunnan province and on Indonesia's Java island.

It is believed to be extinct in Bangladesh, Malaysia, peninsula Thailand and India—with the exception of a few individuals occasionally encountered in India's far northeastern Manipur state bordering Myanmar.

The Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry in Naypyidaw says the birds are protected under the Wildlife Act of Myanmar, which prohibits their capture or killing.

But according to wildlife experts, the law is not properly enforced, and many people in rural areas are unaware of the peacock's legally protected status, poaching them for their eggs, meat and bright feathers.

Greater public awareness of the peacock's plight in Myanmar will be critical to bring the unofficial national symbol back from the brink

Greater public awareness of the 's plight, particularly in rurally areas, will be critical in bringing Myanmar's unofficial national animal back from the brink, says U Thet Zaw Naing.

"The most important thing is to educate the people about how these peacocks are precious for the people and how Myanamar should be proud to have peacocks," he said.

Explore further: Peacock-culling plan ruffles feathers in India's Goa

Related Stories

Peacock-culling plan ruffles feathers in India's Goa

February 13, 2016

The chief minister of India's popular tourist state of Goa moved to smooth ruffled feathers on Saturday after a proposal to reclassify the national bird, the peacock, as vermin sparked an outcry.

Measles behind Myanmar outbreak that has killed 30

August 6, 2016

Myanmar health officials have confirmed that a measles outbreak is behind the deaths of more than 30 people, mostly children, in a remote part of the country as authorities rush to treat victims.

Myanmar tallies 1,114 bird species, 20 previously unrecorded

January 29, 2015

An extensive survey of birds in Myanmar has revealed nearly two dozen not known to have existed in the country, including a large black seabird with a ballooning red neck sack and a tiny black and white falconet with a surprised, ...

Recommended for you

Researchers engineer a tougher fiber

February 22, 2019

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a fiber that combines the elasticity of rubber with the strength of a metal, resulting in a tougher material that could be incorporated into soft robotics, packaging ...

A quantum magnet with a topological twist

February 22, 2019

Taking their name from an intricate Japanese basket pattern, kagome magnets are thought to have electronic properties that could be valuable for future quantum devices and applications. Theories predict that some electrons ...

Solving the jet/cocoon riddle of a gravitational wave event

February 22, 2019

An international research team including astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has combined radio telescopes from five continents to prove the existence of a narrow stream of material, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.