A Burmese vendor sells a large python skin at a traditional medicine shop at the sprawling grounds of Golden Rock pagoda in Mon State. Photo: AFP/Romeo Gacad

Wildlife conservationists have a new ambassador for fighting poachers and smugglers of endangered species: Aung La Nsang, better known under his mixed martial arts name “the Burmese Python,” The Irrawaddy reported on November 16.

The 33-year-old fighter and One Championship middleweight and light heavyweight world champion, Aung La Nsang is an ethnic Kachin from northernmost Myanmar. He will now fight for the World Wildlife Fund, and said of his new role: “The fight to protect wildlife and stop wildlife crime is a fight that is close to my heart.

“Elephants, tigers, pangolins, bears, turtles and Burmese pythons … they should be in the wild, in the forest, the mountains, the ocean, not in the market.”

He also said that huge challenges lie in fighting wildlife crimes as Myanmar borders China, which is home to the world’s biggest black market for wildlife trade.

Despite heavy deforestation in recent decades and on ongoing conflict between the Myanmar army and ethic rebels, Kachin State and neighboring Shan State still have abundant wildlife.

The trade in wildlife has been criminalized in Myanmar since 1994, but there have been problems enforcing the law. In 2017, an elephant was killed almost every week, and Myanmar’s elephant population is now down to less than 2,000.

Besides killing elephants for ivory, there have been reports of smuggling live elephants. Elephant poaching is rampant, not only in the north, but also in the Yangon, Bago and Ayeyarwady regions.

Tiger bones and tiger skins are for sale openly in Mong La and other towns along the Chinese border which are not controlled by the central government.

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