Salween River

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Aerial view of the Mekong Delta, Southern Vietnam.
© WWF-Canon / Elizabeth KEMF

About the Area

The Salween River originates in the eastern highlands of the Tibetan Plateau and flows through valleys that are at first steep and narrow, then increasingly broad as the river approaches the tropical lowlands. Eventually it enters the Andaman Sea in eastern Myanmar.

The 2815 km long Salween river runs parallel to the mighty Mekong River for much of its course and forms part of the border between Myanmar and Thailand. When it flows through Yunnan, it is known as the Nujiang river.

About 140 fish live in this river (approximately one-third endemic species) with Minnows (Cyprinidae) being the most diverse group of fish. The area is also home to the world's most diverse turtle community, with between 10 and 15 genera of turtles represented, many of which are riverine species.

For most of its route the river is of little commercial value, and it passes through deep gorges and is often called China's Grand Canyon. It is home to over 7,000 species of plants and 80 rare or endangered animals and fish. Unesco said this region "may be the most biologically diverse temperate ecosystem in the world" and designated it a World Heritage Site in 2003.

The Salween is the longest undammed river in mainland Southeast Asia.
Size:
330 sq. km (130 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Small Rivers

Geographic Location:

Southeast Asia: China, Myanmar, and Thailand

Conservation Status:

Vulnerable
Local Species
Endemic fish species include Hampala salweenensis and Hypsibarbus salweenensis. Freshwater turtles found in the Salween include stream Terrapin (Cyclemys dentata), giant asian pond Terrapin (Heosemys grandis), and Big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum).

The Salween delta and associated wetlands also support populations of Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea), and Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis).
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Gerald S. CUBITT
Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis), Thailand.
© WWF-Canon / Gerald S. CUBITT

Featured species

Giant Asian Pond Turtle (Heosemys grandis)

Heosemys is a genus of turtles in the family Bataguridae. The Giant Asian Pond Turtle (Heosemys grandis) inhabits rivers, streams, marshes, and rice paddies from estuarine lowlands to moderate altitudes (up to about 400 m) throughout Cambodia and Vietnam and in parts of Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand.

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Threats
Intensive agriculture, overfishing, mining, construction of dams, and inter basin water transfers pose significant problems for the integrity of these freshwater systems, in particular for migratory species.

The destruction of river drainage takes place in tiny increments almost unnoticed until a monsoon generated mudslide takes out an entire mountainside. NuJiang minorities are sensitive to this but can not resist the excessive clearcutting by themselves.

Read more:
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Peter F.R. JACKSON
Terrapins for sale in market Bangkok, Thailand.
© WWF-Canon / Peter F.R. JACKSON
WWF’s work
A new WWF report — An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China — reveals the rate of retreat of Himalayan glaciers accelerating as global warming increases. Himalayan glaciers feed into seven of Asia’s greatest rivers (the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze and Huange He), ensuring a year-round water supply to hundreds of millions of people in the Indian subcontinent and China.

In a letter to the Ministers of Environment, Energy and Development attending the Ministerial roundtable and the G8 meeting, WWF calls on all governments to recognize that global average temperature must stay below 2°C (3.6°F) in comparison to pre-industrial levels, to agree upon a series of ambitious initiatives to vastly change the way their countries produce and use energy, and to launch a power sector governance initiative where all countries commit to practicing the principles of transparency, accountability and public participation in energy sector decision-making.

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