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Western conservation biologists working in Myanmar (formerly Burma) have been criticised for helping to legitimise the country's military regime. The researchers, on the other hand, say their work is vital to protect threatened biodiversity and forge partnerships with local scientists. So who is right?

In this article, Duncan Graham-Rowe sifts through evidence gathered on a recent trip to Myanmar. There is no argument the regime is repressive, he says, as the wars with ethnic minorities alone attest.

Logging is rife in the forests, which are rich in biological diversity, including endangered tigers and elephants. But the conservationists Graham-Rowe met painted a picture at odds with the Western media's, arguing that compared to neighbouring countries, Myanmar's human rights record might not be as bad as believed. The main struggle, according to one scientist, is with rural poverty.

Graham-Rowe says the situation is so complex that it can be read in a number of ways. While the Western conservationists' aim is to protect biodiversity, to do so they must work with senior officials — and risk charges of collusion with the government.

Meanwhile, the researchers are eager to support their local counterparts in the work of conservation. Both local and foreign conservationists agree that doing something is better than doing nothing.

Link to full Nature article

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