Angry German makes Vietnam home to protect rare primates

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Tilo Nadler pounded the table in anger after he found a critically endangered Delacour's langur in a cage at a northern Vietnam market and the authorities said they knew nothing about it.

The anger brought the German back to the country the next year, 1992, and has kept him in the country since with one mission - protecting the primates.

Now, at 74, Nadler is still working hard with his Vietnamese wife and his foreign and Vietnamese staff at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Ninh Binh Province he created in 1993 to house injured primates and little orphaned ones that have lost their family to hunters.

The 3.5 hectare center at Cuc Phuong National Park takes care of 152 animals belonging to several species that face the highest extinction risks in the wild langurs, loris, and gibbon species, including those endemic to Vietnam such as Delacour's langur, golden-headed langur, Tonkin snub-nosed langur and black crested gibbon.

Nadler holds a master degree in electronics but he has had a keen interest in wildlife, especially langurs. Many years ago, he volunteered to be a coordinator with the Frankfurt Zoological Society, an independent conservation group that has operated in 30 countries since its establishment in 1858.

He was assigned in 1991 to go to Vietnam to make a documentary about the rediscovery of Delacour's langur in Vietnam after 57 years. Delacour's langur is included in the World's 25 Most Endangered Primates list published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Nadler saw one of them after months of walking around and staying in the jungle.

But to his disappointment, the monkey was not enjoying its life in the wild, but caged at a market and about to be sold for food, the website said.


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The langur was injured and caged with many other wild animals at Nho Quan market, around 15 kilometers from the Cuc Phuong National Park. Nadler received no help from the local authorities when he informed them about the primate' plight.

So he decided to do something on his own.

In 1992, he volunteered to join a langur conservation project by the Frankfurt organization in Vietnam. The group gave him funds to build and manage the Endangered Primate Rescue Center at Cuc Phuong park.

He told VnExpress he was seen with skeptical eyes at the beginning, as the Vietnamese thought he was trying to bring all the langurs to Germany.

But soon he became a threat to all poachers, hunters and traders of langurs as well as other wildlife creatures in the area. He would even shout at anyone picking mushrooms in the park.

Nadler recalled another angry experience between him and local authorities.

He ran into a stuffed rare langur displayed as a decoration at a hotel in the province and he asked for it, but the hotel owner refused, saying "stuffed animals like that can be found anywhere in Vietnam."

Nadler failed to persuade the man, so he fetched some local forest rangers and police officers. Then the hotel owner asked for US$30 for the langur and Nadler gave him the money.

He took the receipt and the dead langur to the Vietnam Forest Management Department in Hanoi, saying that he was protecting Vietnamese wildlife for them and asked for the money back.

Another time, he burst into tears when two langurs at the center died of snake venom when trying to protect their one-week-old baby.

The project required Nadler to stay in Vietnam for three years until 1996, but he has never left.

He said he wants to do more to protect the langurs in Vietnam that have been pushed to the verge of extinction. He kept asking for extension of his contract several times, and his reason for staying was further strengthened when he got married to a Vietnamese woman and had two sons with her.

The center has been his home, literally, as that is where his sons were born and his family has been living since their marriage in 2000.

Nadler said he met Nguyen Thi Thu Hien, who is around 30 years younger than him, at a Hanoi shop and first recruited her to be his interpreter.

The couple are helped by the Frankfurt society with half the funds needed to manage the center, and they have to raise the other half through grants from various organizations. 

Rescued primates at the center are to be returned to nature at some point, but Hien once told Tuoi Tre they are worried about" too many threats out there."

Although their marriage was strongly opposed by both their families due to the age gap, Hien said Nadler is the man she loves and admires.

"His love for wild animals affects me. He will never kill an ant, and he treasures each blade of grass."

She said they have to pay attention to keeping themselves healthy, as they have to go out any time an animal falls sick.

Although the center is based in the north, it receives langurs from all across the country.

Hien said when Nalder hears about an injured langur, he would leave to see it immediately, wherever it is in the country.

Nadler has said he wants to spend all his life in Vietnam, and when he dies, he wants to be buried inside the Ancestors' Cave at the park. The cave witnessed the presence of humans around 12,000 years ago.

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