Global study lists 40 Vietnam nature reserves as 'irreplaceable'

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Snub-nosed monkey in northern Vietnam is an endemic species and one of 25 most threatened primate species globally. The photo was taken by Le Khac Quyet, a volunteer with wildlife conservation advocacy group Saving Cat Tien.

Forty Vietnamese national parks and nature reserves have been named in a new international study identifying protected areas of utmost importance to the survival of wildlife.

Conservationists said this gives Vietnam specific focus for its wildlife protection efforts, and urged the government to do more in an area where foreign NGOs are doing the bulk of the work, Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) newspaper reported.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature published in the Science weekly magazine on November 15 the names of 2,178 irreplaceable protected areas in more than 100 countries and territories, including 137 "exceptionally irreplaceable" areas in 34.

Vietnam's hot spots include parks and reserves in the northern highlands like UNESCO biosphere reserve Cat Ba Islands, those in the central region like the famous Phong Nha-Ke Bang, and Cat Tien, which has made national headlines for years for being threatened by two hydropower projects that were scrapped last October.

Ha Thang Long of the primate rescue center at Cuc Phuong National Park in the north, told Saigon Tiep Thi that the management of protected areas in Vietnam presents a bleak picture.

The rescue center was founded and is run by German Tilo Nadler who came as a volunteer from the Frankfurt Zoological Society in his native country.

Long said the extinction of the Java rhino in Vietnam in 2010 is one instance of the poor management, with local authorities failing to protect the animal's habitat after scientists rediscovered it in the 1990s when two were found shot.

The 27,000-hectare (66,313-acre) Cat Loc rhino reserve was created in 1992 in the Central Highlands' Lam Dong Province and joined Cat Tien National Park to form a 70,548-ha protect area in 1998.

But experts said the vastness means little since parts of the area are also occupied by people and their crop fields.

They said such invasions, including by hydropower plants, have escalated the conflict between people and wildlife, affecting both.

Three wild elephants recently strayed from the Yok Don National Park in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak, ravaging crops and damaging dozens of houses in neighboring Dak Nong Province.

Nguyen Quang Truong of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources said the IUCN's list suggests maintaining wildlife resources in their specific habitats.

The method is considered more secure and financially efficient than ex-situ which focuses on species conservation in botanic gardens, zoos, gene banks, and captive breeding programs.

"In-situ conservation has been done in Vietnam for a every long time with the establishment of national parks and nature reserves. But for many reasons including low management and financial capabilities, the effect fell short of expectations."

Vietnam's conservation efforts have failed as people in general care more about the value of the wild animals to humans instead of to the biodiversity, he said.

"Like they would ask how much the tiger costs instead of what it means to the ecology."

He said rhinos have been valued by their horns, elephants by their tusks, and tigers by their bones.

"If government officials are still going to restaurants to eat wildlife dishes and consider them delicious, Vietnam will hardly work out any conservation efforts."

The expert said IUCN has saved Vietnam time by naming the places it needs to pay attention to and how, and the conservationist said the government and people need to try to put its suggestion to work.

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"For example, we can hardly suceed in a tiger conservation program, but the chance will be much higher if we protect tiger habitats along the Truong Son mountain (in central Vietnam on the Laos border)."

The IUCN list was based on data about 173,000 terrestrial protected areas and 21,500 species from its Red List of Threatened Species.

"Protected areas can only fulfil their role in reducing biodiversity loss if they are effectively managed," Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, said in a statement posted on its website.

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