Vietnam's voracious appetite for wild meat is pushing several rare species to extinction, experts have warned.
The protection and preservation of wildlife in Vietnam should be prioritized, they urged at a conference Wednesday, calling for enforcement of strict measures against illegal trade in the animals.
"With the current situation of illegal hunting and trapping of wildlife, even hundreds of thousands of nature reserves fail to supply the demand," professor Dang Huy Huynh, chairman of Vietnam Zoology Association, said at the opening of the conference being held at the Ninh Binh Province's Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve.
The event, organized by the Central Committee for Propaganda and Education for the first time, aimed to discuss ways to protect wildlife and sustainably preserve natural resources in the country.
Representatives from international conservation groups TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature attended the conference.
Huynh said the poaching of wildlife used to serve demand of the locals in mountainous regions before 1990.
However, the market has widened nationwide since then, supplying the demand of the rich in urban areas, and wildlife meat is served in many restaurants and resorts, he said.
Around 200 species of wildlife, of which 80 are rare, are traded in the country. The most common ones include snakes, monitor lizards, pangolins, turtles, wild cats, tigers, leopards, bears, elephants, wild boars, deers, monkeys, binturongs, chamoises and porcupines.
Huynh said several species are on the brink of extinction in the country, including the rhinoceros, the white-handed gibbon, civet and tapir.
Nguyen Dang Vang, deputy chairman of the National Assembly's Science, Technology and Environment Committee, estimated the local market has consumes an annual average of around 3,400 tons of wild meat, or one million individual creatures, 18 percent of which are illegal.
"There should be policies for residents living in natural reserves to help them give up poaching," he said.
He said these people should become the main force in protecting the fauna and flora of the nation, with preservation work providing a means of livelihood.
Nguyen Huu Dung, deputy head of the Forest Protection Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said more than 66 percent of poached wildlife had been used for food.
Around 32 percent of wildlife have been exported [legally], while a small proportion have been used as pets or for medical purposes.
Pham Manh Hung, a senior official of the Central Committee for Propaganda and Education, said the Politburo,the decision-making body of the Central Communist Party, had issued a resolution in 2004 on protection of natural resources, including wildlife preservation.
However, he said the regulation has not been implemented enough in protecting the natural environment.
He said the government should issue a decree to detail implementation of the Biodiversity Law that took effect last month.
The decree should regulate the responsibility of management agencies dealing with wildlife protection, he said.
Experts have also recommended improving awareness among civil servants and residents about the need to protect wildlife as well as encouraging people to give up the habit of using wildlife meat.
The media should contribute by spreading information on wildlife protection and criticizing illegal activities that deplete natural resources, including the nation's flora and fauna, experts said.
A TRAFFIC and WWF-led campaign, which aims to change Vietnamese consumer attitudes to reduce illegal and unsustainable trade in protected wildlife, recently demonstrated that the two largest consumer groups for wild animal and plant species in Hanoi were civil servants and businessmen.
James Compton, TRAFFIC Asia-Pacific Program Coordinator, said that the recognition by the Central Committee for Propaganda and Education demonstrates the commitment needed to conserve Vietnam's unique heritage for future generations.
Experts participating in the conference are expected to observe firsthand a successful model of community-based conservation in action at the Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve today when witnessing groups of Delacour Langurs (Trachypithecus delacouri) return to their homes on riverside cliffs at dusk at the reserve.
A workshop scheduled in Hanoi for late September will address the business community's awareness over wildlife protection. It will be jointly organized by TRAFFIC and the Central Committee for Propaganda and Education, TRAFFIC reported on its website Wednesday.