Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Rich Diversity of Vietnam's Forests

"The ancient forest contains almost 2,000 species of trees and among them live some amazing and rare animals including the clouded leopard, Delacour's langur, Owston's civet, otters and Asian black bears!"
"...Owls, flying squirrels, lorises, bats and cats."
Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam

"Every day we all wake up and say: 'Do we have time? Do any of these species have time?"
"Are we just fighting a war that we've already lost'?"
"But if we don't fight, then we definitely have lost."
Quyen Vu, executive director, Education for Nature-Vietnam
Image result for Tiger
Indo-Chinese tiger, Vietnam

Vietnam advertises its openness to tourism. The country is a treasure house of wild nature with some of the world's most biologically diverse areas within its thirty national parks. It boasts as many kinds of animals as safari-destination countries like Kenya and Tanzania. Furthermore, biological science has been busy with new discoveries in Vietnam over the past three decades, with newer discoveries joining the long list annually.

There is the saola, resembling an antelope, long-lost rhinos, barking deer, striped rabbit, and at least two dozen species of primates including gibbons, macaques lorises and langurs. But it isn't necessarily its fabulous forests and national parks that official Vietnam wants to steer curious tourists toward, but its burgeoning cities, the urban landscape, not the natural one.

A country that has become the epicenter for diversity in wildlife and ongoing discoveries is loathe to direct tourists to their locales. Not for the purpose, mind, of protecting wildlife. But to ensure that it does not become too well-known that population growth leading to habitat loss and corruption have spurred criminal wildlife trafficking. Where the wild animals are being shot, snared and live-captured to the extent that natural areas have become afflicted with "empty forest syndrome".
Snared paw of Ferret Badger. (Photo by Lorraine Scotson/Free the Bears)
Snared paw of Ferret Badger. (Photo by Lorraine Scotson/Free the Bears)

The habitats may flourish but the animals that once did in their natural surroundings are scarcely to be found; animals and birds hunted into local extinction. In one single remote national preserve that Vietnam officially set aside for its saola and other rare animals, 23,000 wire snares were discovered, in 2015. The result? No sightings verified of a saola since a photo was snapped of one of the creatures six years earlier.  Poachers in the Cat Tien National Park shot the last rhino in 2010.

Tigers, those noble creatures? Hunted out of existence. Limited populations of bears and elephants are hanging in. The national appetite for Eastern traditional medicine in Vietnam and neighbouring China is responsible for some of the carnage. More so "is to supply the rampant demand for wildlife meat in urban restaurants", Barney Long, a director with the nonprofit group Global Wildlife Conservation stated.

Cue Phuong, the first national park in Vietnam, stands a few hours' drive south of Hanoi, created in 1962 by Ho Chi Minh, and there no more Delacour's langurs exist, nor any other of its type; no bears, leopards of smaller cats according to Adam Davies, director of the Endangered Primate Rescue Center. The richest collection of rare animals can still be seen, however, along a narrow park road where animal rescue centers have set up shop.

Pseudoryx nghetinhensis Saola (aka Vu Quang ox) 4 - 5 month old female at the Forest Inventory & Planning Institute Botanical Garden. Hanoi, Vietnam (David Hulse, WWF-Canon)

There is the Primate Rescue Center where nearly extinct langurs, gibbons and lorises can be seen -- having been rescued in large part from wildlife traffickers. Two other rescue centers are nearby; one protecting dozens of species of turtles, all of them endangered, while the other is reserved for confiscated leopard cats, civets, binturong or bearcat and the pangolin.

Education for Nature Vietnam pursues research, criminal investigation, political fights and legal maneuvers. They hope to make a difference, but worry that time is running out. International tourism arrivals amounted to 15.5 million people visiting Vietnam in 2018, representing a 64 percent leap from 2016. The growing economy, and the affliction of corruption in the government of Vietnam represent major factors in the disappearance of natural habitat and endangered species.

No one knows how many saola are left.
No one knows how many saola are left. (World Wildlife Fund)

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