Experts sound alarm after wildlife hunting legalized in Vietnam

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Foreign and local experts say the Agriculture Ministry's legalization of commercial exploitation of non-threatened wildlife species could pose a serious threat to the country's endangered animals and fragile ecosystems.

Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer) newspaper recently quoted several wildlife protection experts as saying that a lack of awareness on the part of both the government and the public, and the likelihood of poor law enforcement, could make the decision disastrous.

Earlier this week, the ministry announced that it would begin issuing month-long licenses to hunt and breed 160 species that were not red-listed. The decision will go into effect on November 9.

The species include the barking deer and several categories of snakes.

The ministry said the move was part of efforts to bring commercial exploitation of wildlife under government management while also facilitating the export of wildlife by local farms. At the moment, the only wildlife regulations were for protecting endangered species.

However, Associate Proffessor Nguyen Xuan Dang from the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources in Hanoi, said the supervision of legalized hunting and other activities, and the law enforcement would have to be "strict."

If not, the circular would lead to the increased poaching of endangered species during such licensed exploitation activities, he said.

Vu Thi Quyen, founding director of the NGO Education for Nature-Vietnam, said she was concerned that allowing people to kill and exploit these non-endangered species would put other rare species at risk, because both Vietnamese authorities and people engaged in the wildlife business had very "limited" knowledge of the differences among species.

She suggested that the commercial exploitation activities be restricted to species with recognizable features.

Several species of birds and snakes that were hard to tell apart from similar endangered species should only be allowed to be exploited for scientific purposes, Quyen said.

Jack Todoff, a bird expert with the NGO Conservation International, said the difficulty in distinguishing different species from one another meant that the circular would make it more difficult to protect endangered species.

The illegal murder and exploitation of endangered species, sometimes in large numbers, is already a serious problem in Vietnam.

Simon Mahood, another international bird expert, said the legalization of hunting deer, wild boars, and civets meant that setting traps throughout vast stretches of forest would be permitted by law, even though this method of hunting was sure to kill other endangered species, like the extremely rare and precious sao la.

In a release issued on May 21 this year, international conservation groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, said that the sao la, one of the world's rarest mammals, was often caught in wire snares set by hunters to catch other animals like stags, deer and wild boars.

On the other hand, Dao Duy Phien, director of the Vu Quang National Park in the central province of Ha Tinh, was quoted by Nguoi Lao Dong as saying that the circular would cause problems for the management and protection of biodiversity at national parks.

Although the ministry has banned the hunting of wildlife species at national parks, people would be more likely to hunt anything they see due to the new regulations, he said. The regulations should be delayed until local awareness of the different types of species is raised, he added.

Tran Xuan Cuong, vice director of Pu Mat National Park in the central province of Nghe An, also said that the circular's regulations must be considered "carefully" before being put into effect to prevent bad consequences, according to the news report.

Agreeing with Cuong and Phien, Tran Van Thanh, director of Yok Don National Park in the Central Highlands of Dak Lak, said the ministry should restrict commercial hunting to certain seasons, based on each species' reproductive schedule, or should be limited to male animals only.

Meanwhile, Le Dac Y, director of Ea So Nature Reserve in Dak Lak province, feared that the legalization would possibly trigger a hunting rush and more hunters would break into protected reserves.

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Worse still, many experts pointed out that many of the species eligible for commercial activities under the ministry's circular were, in fact, dying out, including the barking deer and small-tooth palm civets (Arctogalidia trivirgata), according to the article.

Those species facing in extinction in the wild must be erased from the list, said Le Trong Dat, an expert with the Cuc Phuong National Park Science and International Cooperation Division.

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