The Myanmar Herpetological Survey Project

The Project
Project Goals
Introduction to Myanmar presents the country in a biogeographic context with habitat photos.
Project Timeline covers the areas surveyed and chronology of the significant findings and events.
Why We Collect details what specimens are used for, and why collecting is necessary.
Promoting Conservation, Education and Research describes our in-country programs.
Urgency and Conservation details the threats facing amphibians and reptiles in Myanmar and conservation efforts.

Invited to do preliminary fieldwork in Myanmar (Burma) by ichythyologist Carl Ferraris in 1997, Joseph B. Slowinski recognized the opportunity to study the rich but little known herpetofauna of the country. A year later, Slowinski and George R. Zug (National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution) submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to survey and study the amphibians and reptiles of Myanmar. Upon approval by NSF, the Myanmar Herpetological Survey begin in mid-1999. After the untimely death of Joe Slowinski in 2001, Alan E. Leviton assumed responsibility for the project and became the Principal Investigator for the NSF grant. In 2005, Alan E. Leviton, George R. Zug and Jens V. Vindum were awarded a new NSF grant (DEB 0451832) to continue the herpetological survey of Myanmar.

The Project

Most of our current understanding of the Burmese herpetofauna is based on the efforts of British officials and scientists during Britain's colonial occupation of the country and was summarized in, The Fauna of British India. As the title suggests, its focus was the Indian subcontinent but included fauna ranging from Sri Lanka to Myanmar and Thailand.

At the onset of this current project, about 350 amphibian and reptile species had been documented from Myanmar, which is certainly an underestimation of actual number of species. Given the confluence of three distinct biogeographic units and the expected high rate of endemism as well as the near-complete lack of structured herpetological surveys, we predict that the total number of species to be found in Myanmar will be closer to 500.

In 1999, the National Science Foundation funded a joint collaboration between the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, Forestry Department of Myanmar, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Smithsonian Institution (DEB 9971861) to inventory the amphibian and reptile species of Myanmar for three years. The core of the project is specimen-based surveys conducted primarily by a trained field team chosen from employees of the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, Forest Department. It represents the first systematic herpetological survey to be conducted in the country, and certainly, the first to be conducted primarily by Myanmar Forestry Department staff.

Project Goals

The goals of the Myanmar Herpetological Survey Project are:

1. To make collections of specimens, tissues samples, and associated data to document and understand the diversity of the Myanmar herpetofauna and its relationships to the fauna of contiguous regions;

2. To provide training to employees of the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division in systematics, herpetology, conservation biology, and biodiversity survey techniques;

3. To provide the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division with data, reports, and publications to help them understand and conserve their own biodiversity;

4. To help the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division develop the newly founded Myanmar Biodiversity Museum;

5. To promote and sustain a resurgence of organismal biology in Myanmar.

This Project is dedicated to Joe