Stone, sand, water the key ingredients changing the Salween landscape

Tun Lin has a unique occupation: he is the security guard at Linno limestone karst cave on the bank of the Salween River in Myanmar’s southeast Karen (Kayin) State. He earns 80,000 Myanmar kyat (around $60) per month to guard the entrance to the cave, the contents of which — common nectar bats (Eonycteris spelaea), wrinkle-lipped bats (Chaerephon plicatus), Theobold’s tomb bats (Taphozous theobaldi), black-bearded tomb bats (Taphozous melanopogon) and a lot of guano — are targeted by robbers who either poach the bats or steal the guano that is sold in the local area for use as fertilizer. Only five months on the job, the 36-year-old has not yet encountered any thieves, but the last time hunters came, they used nets to scoop up over a thousand of the cave-dwelling bats. Captured live and kept in bags, the bats were sold on as food or as traditional medicine, explained Myint Myint Nwe, the cave’s license holder and  customary “owner.” But it’s not just the cave bat colonies that are at risk here in Karen State. In fact, the entire limestone karst landscape, and its natural formations and caves are increasingly at risk from Myanmar’s (and Southeast Asia’s) booming construction industry, the bedrock of surging industrial development.

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