Giant 'pilgrim fish' disappear from river by Myanmar pagoda

by Khin Maung Win, AFP, July 19, 2007

Every July at the start of Buddhist Lent for as long as anyone can remember, giant catfish have made the journey up a tributary of Myanmar's mighty Irrawaddy river to an historic temple.

YANGON, Myanmar -- Devotees at the temple call them "pilgrim fish," and believe the creatures come to show their respect for the Buddha at a time meant to inspire religious contemplation.

<< Fishermen with their catch of the day in Maubin township
© AFP Khin Maung Win

Their feeding area around the Kyaung Taw Yar Pagoda in central Myanmar is considered holy ground, and the fish are believed to have been coming since Buddha was alive some 2,500 years ago.

In more recent memory, postcards and photos from 20 years ago show children at the pagoda playing with -- and even sitting on -- the fish, which can grow to 150 centimetres (60 inches) long.

But only two pilgrim fish were seen at the temple last year and as Buddhist Lent approaches on July 29, many people are starting to worry that this year the fish may not show up at all.

"The Mone Creek was full of fish about 20 years ago," said Kyi Soe, one of the pagoda's trustees, as he held up an old photograph of himself with his arms wrapped around one of the massive fish.

This particular species of giant catfish, which is found in parts of South and Central Asia, is called rita rita. It reproduces slowly, and its habitat has come under pressure from increased fishing and the building of a series of new dams on the Irrawaddy and its tributaries, experts say.

At the request of the pagoda's trustees, Myanmar fisheries officials last year conducted a study of the Mone Creek but found little evidence of pollution that could be harming the catfish.

Dams are the more likely culprit, according to one of the experts who conducted the study.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, as most officials in this military-ruled nation do, she said that not only do the dams block the path of the fish, but they cause changes in the water flow that in turn alters sandbanks on the riverbed.

As a result, she said, some of the sandbanks may have grown so large that the giant fish are no longer able to get around them.

"That could be one possible factor that has caused the rita rita to disappear in that area," she said.

Official data show that since 1988 Myanmar has built 29 dams in Magway division, the central region where the pagoda is located.

The dams have helped farmers with irrigation and water control, but have also caused changes to the pattern of soil erosion and created more sand banks farther downstream than where they used to be found, the expert added.

Improved fishing techniques may also be taking a toll on the giant catfish.

"The modern fishing industry is commercialised for overseas export and furnished with advanced fishing equipment," said Myo Myint Tun, a depot owner who has fishing rights to a two-and-a-half-mile (four-kilometre) stretch of the Irrawaddy.

"Now we use three-layered nets that can catch fish of any size, big or small. People also use electronic devices and poison for mass fishing," he said.

The trustees tasked with caring for the pagoda say they just want the government to find a way to preserve the pilgrim fish.

"We don't want to see the pilgrim fish become extinct. Conservation of the fish is urgently needed," said Kyi Soe.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: