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Valley of Death On Assignment

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Valley of Death
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

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The Hunt is Off

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By Alan RabinowitzPhotographs by Steve Winter

In Myanmar's isolated Hukawng Valley the tiger was king of the jungle until poachers and gold miners moved in. Now plans are under way to restore its reign with the largest tiger sanctuary in the world.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Now that I see how much has changed in the valley, I worry I may be too late. Maybe Hukawng has become an "empty forest"—one that looks like a perfect habitat for tigers yet in fact is devoid of such life. With thousands of people living so close to the forest, it's possible that too many tigers have already been lost. Before moving forward with the reserve, I need proof there are enough tigers to warrant the effort. That proof, I hope, is waiting for me in the nearby town of Tanai.
When I arrive in Tanai, the Wildlife Conservation Society field team is waiting. They greet me with smiles, then hand over a thick envelope of photographic contact sheets. They have been in Hukawng Valley for three months conducting a systematic survey inside the wildlife sanctuary. Their primary tool: an automatic camera in waterproof housing triggered by an infrared beam that detects body heat. These "camera traps" photograph anything passing in front of them, signaling the presence of species that don't always leave obvious signs. In the case of tigers, they can even identify individual animals, since no two have the same stripe patterns. The survey will provide the first real estimate of tiger density in the valley. I scan the sheets carefully.
"What are the numbers?" I ask, referring to the analysis that was done based on the photos.
"Two to three tigers per hundred square miles [250 square kilometers]," the team leader says, "maybe eighty to a hundred in the whole valley."
I'm relieved. The tiger numbers are sufficient, though far below what they could be for a lowland forest like this, where I'd expect perhaps as many as ten tigers per hundred square miles. Still, there is a population here that can thrive—and multiply if protected.

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Online Extra
Get an update on Alan Rabinowitz's progress in creating the world's largest tiger reserve.

Venture into the Hukawng Valley in this video of an expedition to position cameras—trip wired with lasers—in the path of wildlife.

How can mankind live in harmony with the natural world? Wherever you live—city, suburbs, rain forest—share your opinions on what works and what doesn't.

Send a friend an e-greeting of a young Asiatic leopard, one of the many animal species protected by the Hukawng Valley sanctuary.

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
"My first sight was of a pagoda-studded landscape amid an expanse of forest greenery," Alan Rabinowitz remembered of his first visit to Myanmar in 1993.  Long closed to Westerners, Myanmar harbored some of the rarest species on Earth and the Wildlife Conservation Society and Rabinowitz hoped to protect them. Over the course of the next decade, working closely with the Myanmar Forest Department, their efforts paid off with the creation of three new national parks, including the tiger reserve in Hukawng Valley. Together these parks reflect the rich diversity of the country's wildlife.
Lampi Island Marine National Park was the first success story. Established in 1996, it covers 79 square miles (200 square kilometers) of pristine coral reefs, towering mangroves, and island habitat abundant with bird and marine life, such as sea turtles and dugongs.   
Hkakabo Razi National Park is named for the 19,295-foot (5,881-meter) Himalayan peak it encompasses. Before its establishment in 1998, Rabinowitz and his Forest Department colleagues explored this remote area in northern Myanmar, discovering a new species of deer, the leaf deer  (Muntiacus putaoensis), and contacting the last-known members of the Taron pygmy tribe.  The 1,500-square-mile (4,000-square-kilometer) park shelters a variety of endangered animals, including the clouded leopard, red panda, and black barking deer as well as several species of rare orchids and dozens of birds.
—Jeanne E. Peters
Did You Know?

Related Links
Wildlife Conservation Society
Explore the many projects undertaken by this conservation group to help protect the Earth's endangered species.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna
Read about the latest species added to the list of some 5,000 animals and 28,000 plants considered threatened by the agency that monitors species exploitation around the world.
Myanmar Government
Learn more about the Myanmar government at this official site, which includes news about protected areas and tourist destinations.

National Public Radio
National Public Radio's "Radio Expeditions" website features an interview with conservationist Alan Rabinowitz.


Becka, Jan. Historical Dictionary of Myanmar. The Scarecrow Press, 1995.

Nowak, Ronald M. Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.   
Rabinowitz, Alan. Beyond the Last Village. Island Press, 2001.
Tuchman, Barbara W. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45. Grove Press, 1970.
White, Theodore H., ed. The Stilwell Papers. William Sloane Associates, 1948.


NGS Resources
Webster, Donovan. "Blood, Sweat, and Toil Along the Burma Road." National Geographic (November 2003), 84-103.
Bellows, Keith. "Tourism and Freedom." National Geographic Traveler (September 2002), 6.
Swerdlow, Joel L. "Burma: The Richest of Poor Countries." National Geographic (July 1995), 70-97.
Gayer, Richard. "Elephants Save Forests: Forests Save Elephants." National Geographic Research and Exploration (Spring 1992), 133-5.


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