A Tuoi Tre newspaper investigation caught provincial forest rangers in Dong Nai Province negotiating supplies and prices for illegal wildlife products in uniform.
Ranger Mai Ngoc Dat got right to the point during a meeting with P. from neighboring Ho Chi Minh City.
“What do you want?” Dat asked.
Then he assured P. that he had access to all kinds of “stable” supply of farmed and wild animals from the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong and the protected Nam Cat Tien Fores t -- a part of the world biosphere reserve Cat Tien that's concentrated in Dong Nai.
“There’s nothing that we don’t have,” Dat said.
Then he picked up his cell phone to confirm as much with his supplier.
P. asked for bear bile, an illegal but highly sought-after health tonic in Vietnam, Dat said one milliliter costs around VND500,000 (US$24), but the wild one can cost ten times more.
The next night, P. met with a forest ranger named Le Quoc Van, according to the name tag on his uniform, to buy five milliliters of bear bile separated into five finger-size bottles for VND130,000 ($6) each.
Local bear bile traders said they have been selling well despite the ban thanks to help from their local forest rangers’ assistance. Among their suppliers are bear farms in the north-central province of Nghe An.
The traders said bear farming is allowed, but the commercial use of its bile is not.
So some forest management officials have instructed traders to advertise their service as just “bile” and not to mention the “bear,” so that when they are questioned by the authorities, they can claim it is derived from pythons or bees.
Vietnamese people use the same word “mật” for bile and honey.
According to Tuoi Tre, P. has been working with Van since at least the middle of June and Van has advised P. to generate certificates of origin for any wild animals, specifying those that carry fines of VND6 million ($284) for a kilogram of possession -- namely mouse deer, deer, giraffe, snake or mink.
Van is employed by Vinh Cuu District Forest Management Board, according to Tuoi Tre.
Pham Van Giao, director of the Protective Forest Management Board at the Dong Nai agriculture department, confirmed that Dat works on his staff and promised to look into Dat’s role in wildlife trafficking.
On August 14, Tuoi Tre caught Dat again in his Vietnam Forestry uniform.
The crooked ranger brought P. to a supplier based several meters from his office and 16 kilometers from Cat Tien Park.
Nhung, who ran a restaurant there as a front for his wildlife trading operation, told P. that he only needs to find a way for her to deliver the wild animals to him.
“Public buses are the easiest. No one checks them when they arrive at stations.”
She used Dat’s name as a guarantee that her supplies are the cheapest in the area.
There are many other suppliers disguised as cafés and restaurants.
They charge VND250,000 ($12) a kilogram for wild boar, VND400,000-900,000 ($19-42) a kilo for mink, VND1.1-1.4 million ($52-66) a kilo of cobra.
The traders buy from local hunters, who use special traps to catch animals of all sizes.
One trader named Thu said he sometimes hunts for himself.
He caught a pregnant boar and a pregnant monkey. After butchering the mothers, he soaked the three unborn boars and one unborn monkey in two jars of wine to sell as a kind of tonic.
Thu said he hopes to sell the boar wine for VND3 million ($142).