Canadian resort owner protects Vietnamese wildlife

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Endangered species hunted by poachers find an unlikely friend north of Nha Trang

When he's not tending to his duties as the owner of Jungle Beach, one of central Vietnam's most secluded beach resorts, Sylvio Larmache spends his days looking after his langurs.

In the jungles of Hon Heo mountain, on the foothills on which Sylvio's backpacker getaway sits, endangered deer, douc langurs and four kinds of rare eagles live undisturbed, despite the fact that poachers could fetch high prices for the animals.

Larmache can take at least some of the credit for protecting the animals and ensuring that they thrive in their natural habitat, which has been whittled away piece by piece via encroaching developments: mostly hotels and factories.

Larmache's five loyal dogs, including Momma Dog and Ugly Dog, act as his eyes and ears, vigilantly watching over the hills to spot illegal loggers or hunters who covet the area's raw timber and untouched wildlife, 60 miles north of Khanh Hoa Province's prime beach resort town of Nha Trang.

Sylvio Lamarche (L) shows a tourist the animals he watches over. The owner of the Jungle Beach resort in Khanh Hoa Province has taken it upon himself to protect local endangered species.

Lamarche himself walks the mountain barefoot every day to count the animals he sees. He keeps specific track of four species of eagle, four endangered species of deer and communities of slow loris and black langur in his personal journal.

"I have no authority. But I have love for plants and animals," the 54-year old Canadian said in Vietnamese.

Not just on TV

Larmache found the present-day Jungle Beach's pristine sands and crystal-clear waters in 1995 as a traveler kayaking the Ninh Hoa Commune coast. He knew that he would one day make a little slice of heaven his home.

In 2000, Larmache sold his farm back home in Canada and returned to Vietnam to buy the one hectare of land along the Hon Heo foothills, where he and his Vietnamese wife then built Jungle Beach.

Larmache gets up very early everyday and uses binoculars to check if his favorite mountain animals have gone for their breakfast.

"I love them. They need protection," he said. "I also want my kid to see a deer or langur right in front of his eyes, instead of just on television."

Lamarche accepts no payment for his work protecting the animals, but he is proud of the Certificate of Merit given to him by the Ninh Hoa District government for his volunteer efforts.

Most Jungle Beach guests spend at least part of their stay watching the animals through his binoculars or a telescope. Some even hike into the hills themselves to get a close up view.

Jungle Beach manager Luu Vinh Quang, 43, said Sylvio has had to confront trappers in the past.

Quang remembered one incident in which local residents had trapped a slow loris nearby and Lamarche tried to buy its freedom. But he refused to pay their exorbitant price for fear it would fuel the trade.

Lamarche then called local forest wardens to seize the loris and he carried it back to its home on the mountain and set it free himself, said Quang, who taught Lamarch Vietnamese as one of his first friends and guides in the country.

"These animals only eat plants," said Lamarche. "They don't harm people and they should be protected for our children. But just me is not enough," he said.

Discovery

In 2007, Lamarch was credited with discovering a group of 110 black langurs that had been previously unnoticed by local authorities.

He sent his records to Tilo Nadler, director of a German rescue center under the Frankfurt Animal Association.

Nadler and several experts from the center then studied the group and found that they were Blackshanked doucs (Pygathrix nigripes), currently listed in Vietnam as critically endangered.

The doucs have been protected since and have given birth to around 40 new members of their community as of December 2009, Lamarche said.

The bold Canadian hasn't left Vietnam since 2000.

"I've deleted Canada," he said. "Now I'm just a white-ass minority Vietnamese at the foot of Hon Heo."

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