Despite decades of conflict and widespread deforestation, the Salween Basin is one of Asia-Pacific’s most biodiverse ecoregions.To protect this diversity, a group of Karen leaders, local people and NGOs have called for the creation of a 5,200-square kilometer park that would function as an indigenous-led protected area. The proposed park includes existing community forests, as well as the site of the planned Hat Gyi dam.The stated aspirations of the park are “peace and self-determination, environmental integrity, and cultural survival,” a stark contrast to the conflict, environmental degradation and oppression of minorities that have historically defined development projects in Myanmar. “To most people on earth — even biodiversity scientists — the Salween Basin is like the dark side of the moon.” So begins a 2008 study of the flora and fauna of a single bend of the Salween River by environmental NGO Karen Environmental Social Action Network (KESAN). “But it is precisely this obscurity that makes the Salween Basin a place of great biodiversity,” wrote the study’s authors, and with good reason. In a single patch of land hemmed in by the Salween, they documented 194 plant species and 42 endangered mammal species, among them the Asiatic black bear, sun bear, eastern hoolock gibbon, slow loris, dhole, Sunda pangolin, Chinese pangolin, great hornbill, as well as several previously unidentified plant and animal species. This spectacular array of little-studied biodiversity is evidence of the resilience of the wildlife that has managed to survive here, despite seventy years of civil war and multiple other threats including habitat destruction for large infrastructure projects such as dams, roads and pipelines. It exemplifies the ecological wealth that a large protected area in Karen (Kayin) state could support — and what is at risk here if large-scale development projects continue without wildlife and indigenous peoples in mind. Great hornbills are among the many species currently found in the Salween Basin. Photo by Rhett A. Butler. The Salween Peace Park would set aside a 5,200 square kilometer (around 2,000 square miles) swathe of Myanmar’s southeastern Karen state as an indigenous Karen-led protected area — including the site slated for the large, export-oriented Hat Gyi dam. Born out of collective experience of the negative impacts of large-scale development projects elsewhere in Karen state and across Myanmar, the project aims to forge a peaceful and more sustainable economic development pathway for the Karen lands west of the Salween River. Much of the terrain is rugged and textured with limestone mountains that crumple the land with sharp rises and high ridges dropping into steep verdant valleys. The region’s wild beauty is indebted to the Indian and Eurasian continental plates that collided and gave Earth the Himalayas, 50 million years ago. Along the entire eastern edge of the proposed park, striking mountains drop off into the mighty Salween, which has forged its way south from its glacial source in the Himalayas. The Salween Peace Park lies in the heart of the ecoregion the WWF has termed the “Kayah-Karen Montane Rain Forests,” which is the fourth richest ecoregion in the Indo-Pacific in terms of mammal species (168), and the second highest for bird species, which number 568. This is the third article in a five-part series exploring Myanmar’s Salween landscape amid galvanizing plans to develop hydropower projects along its course. Part I outlined plans being made by businesses and governments in China, Thailand and Myanmar to harness the Salween’s vast hydroelectric potential. Part II looked at the Salween dams’ already bloody legacy and the projects’ direct or indirect relationship with perpetuating instability and conflict in Myanmar’s Shan and Karen states. Part III uncovered some of the ethnic and ecological biodiversity at stake, focusing on the Kun Heng “thousand islands,” a unique riverine ecology facing submersion under the Mong Ton dam reservoir in Shan State. Part V focuses on downstream Salween communities’ livelihoods and ongoing changes facing the broader Salween landscape due to Myanmar’s rapid economic development.