HCMC wildlife consumption on the rise: survey

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Conservationists say Vietnam should educate youth about public health risks involved in wildlife meat consumption

Thiis frozen duoc languor was recovered during an illegal wildlife raid in Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands.

More than half of Ho Chi Minh City residents have used wild animal products in their lifetime. Half of that group consumed the illegally-derived products three times or more.

The non-governmental conservation group, Wildlife At Risk (WAR), released the recent survey results on Monday (May 23).

"Food accounts for the greatest percentage of wild animal products consumed in HCMC, followed by drinks, medicinal products, pets, fashion and ornaments," according to the joint survey conducted by WAR and the HCMC University of Science.

The organization said that the results will provide an essential platform on which to build a conservation movement. They have further warned that consumption will likely continue and poses grave public health risks.

The survey "Consumption of wild animal products in HCMC - Results of resident and student survey," polled 4,000 HCMC residents and nearly 3,600 secondary school students from August 2010 to April 2011.

"[The survey] provides a strong foundation to design effective conservation initiatives in order to prevent illegal wild animal trade and consumption," said Hoang Duc Huy of the HCMC University of Science's Faculty of Biology.

HCMC restaurants are the most common places for people to eat wild animal products, according to the findings.

The majority of respondents said they ate wild meat either because someone invited them to do so, they wanted to taste something new or they considered wild meat more delicious, the survey found.

"Middle-aged men and women between 36 and 45 years old government officials, and people with a higher level of education have a tendency to consume more wild animal products," WAR said in a press release that accompanied the release of the survey results.

The organization predicted that this trend will continue to increase in the future.

The survey also showed that secondary school students were strongly influenced by their parents and adults in their families. However, many expressed good attitudes toward conservation and are more willing to take part in wild animal protection than adults.

WAR called for additional propaganda and education programs to curb illegal consumption of wild animals.

"Initiatives aimed at preventing the illegal trade of wild animals should target consumers because they are the force behind illegal trading and hunting of wild animal products and thus pushing wild animals to the brink of extinction," said Do Thi Thanh Huyen, WAR's Wildlife Education manager. "Effective education programs for younger generations could provide an effective and sustainable long-term solution."

Astounding findings about wildlife consumption in HCMC have raised concerns about possible infectious disease transmission from wild animals to human hosts.

Leanne Clark, the field veterinarian at the World Conservation Society's (WCS) Global Health Program, has called for further research into the link between wildlife trade and the spread of infectious disease.

"Do you remember when SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) precast in 2002 in southern China? That was [caused by] a transmission between animals and people working in the wildlife trade," she told Thanh Nien Weekly. "[SARS] had probably been living in wild bats for a very long time. When people kill the animal and cut into pieces to eat, then that's when it is transmitted to people. Almost 50 percent of the first SARS patients were people involved in the wildlife trade."

She said many of the current conditions here in Vietnam are a major cause for concern.

 "If you look at the wildlife trade in Vietnam, [the animals] are very often unhealthy," she said. "They are infected with diseases and often injured."

Clark said that the consumers of these animals should be aware that they are taking serious health risks.

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