Vietnam is a fantastic country with friendly people, vibrant culture, stunning topography and superb wildlife. Unfortunately Vietnamese wildlife is threatened by persistent illegal trade, much of it driven by beliefs in Traditional Cultural Medicine. Wildopeneye is highly impressed by the Vietnamese NGO, Education for Nature-Vietnam (ENV). Founded in 2000 as Vietnam’s first non-governmental organization focused on the conservation of nature and the environment, Education for Nature-Vietnam is eleven years advanced in its mission “to foster greater understanding amongst the Vietnamese public about environmental issues of local, national and global significance, ranging from the protection of wildlife and natural ecosystems to climate change.”
Considering Vietnam’s important biodiversity and the enormous pressures upon its own wildlife populations and those of it’s neighbouring countries from illegal trade, much of it stimulated by foreign demand, ENV stands out as one of the most important groups in front-line wildlife conservation and with it’s efficient and comprehensive multi-pronged conservation strategy it serves as a valuable exemplar.
ENV simultaneously provides:
ENV have held 70 training programs for teachers, and staff from National Parks and protected areas nationally and have also trained personnel from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
ENV’s Green Forest magazine is a biannual children’s nature magazine, distributed nationally through the Environmental Education Network with a nationwide readership of approximately 300,000. Each issue focuses on a range of significant environmental topics and includes student contributions from around the country.
ENV employs mass media and the press to reduce consumption of wildlife by influencing public attitudes and encouraging the public to become actively involved in wildlife protection. ENV’s consumer surveys are an important element of their work.
ENV’s Mobile Wildlife Awareness team tours Vietnam communicating directly with stakeholder groups including students, communities living near protected areas, customs officers and local authorities.
In January 2005 ENV established their Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) to “facilitate and motivate public involvement in efforts to combat wildlife trade, and to improve the effectiveness of front line law enforcement agencies in combating wildlife crime”. They established a toll-free hot line for reporting wildlife crime. Working closely with law enforcement agencies, ENV provides advice, tracks each case to its conclusion and documents the circumstances, maintaining a valuable database. Confiscated wildlife is returned to suitable habitat where possible and seized body parts are destroyed or sent to museums. The WCU encourages stiffer penalties and works directly with violators to secure voluntary compliance, and operates a national network of volunteers to assist with monitoring and surveying urban centers and wildlife trade hotspots throughout the country. Now they have regional offices in Ho Chi Minh City in the south and Dan Nang in central Vietnam. Surveys of establishments reported for previous violations where subsequent action was taken by ENV and law enforcement agencies showed that 45 out of 75 (60%) of them are no longer violating wildlife protection laws.
Building support amongst key government decision-makers
Since 2008, ENV’s “Capitol Group” has been actively building support amongst key government decision-makers in the National Assembly, relevant Ministries and provincial leaders to help formulate policy, strengthen legislation and enforcement for wildlife protection.
This liaison is crucial in ENV’s campaign to eliminate the illegal trade of tigers in Vietnam, in keeping with broader efforts
to safeguard the world’s last remaining wild tigers. Conflict within the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) between promoting farming of endangered species for commercial purposes and protecting critically endangered wildlife is the greatest obstacle to the protection of tigers in Vietnam.
ENV believes that “if MARD cannot resolve this conflict, responsibility
for protection of endangered wildlife should be
transferred to a branch within the government that
is tasked solely with protection of wildlife, without
interests in farming or other commercial activities.”
Why ENV is so busy – Vietnam’s wildlife is under intense pressure
Make no mistake, Vietnam’s wildlife is under intense pressure. The online wildlife trade gallery makes a good introduction to the issues with some very powerful videos. The WCU has been involved in 3144 cases since its inception. Since 2008, ENV’s field investigation program has been working closely with law enforcement agencies conducting investigations on priority species groups including bears, tigers, rhino horn trade, and ivory trade. The high prices associated with trade in these animals is hastening the species involved to extinction.
The NGO’s recent discovery of 60 tigers in farms in Vietnam is important for conservation of the species. ENV believes that efforts to save Vietnam’ tigers must focus on stringent protection of tigers in their habitat, as well as strict enforcement of laws prohibiting commercial trade of tigers and their body parts. Measures to eliminate demand for tiger products amongst wealthy consumers are also very important, ENV aims to increase awareness, and actively encourage public support and involvement in tiger protection.
ENV’s work on behalf of the large numbers of endangered forest and fresh water chelonians (turtles and tortoises) is crucially important too. ENV’s rescue and release of the World’s rarest turtle, the IUCN Red listed Rafetus swinhoeli in cooperation with forest rangers made international news headlines, very many other turtles and tortoises are being removed from the wild on a regular basis for trade fueled by superstitious belief in Traditional Chinese Medicine. See the video below to view the famous Rafetus release.
Bear Bile Farming
Vietnam’s bears are being pushed to the edge of extinction according to ENV, primarily due to the illegal hunting and trade to support the demand for bear bile used as a traditional form of medicine (TCM). Hundreds of Asian tourists including many Koreans, visit per week, watch the extraction process, drink bear gall wine and pay $30 per CC for take-away bile. The plight of these bears is truly pitiful.
Most of the approximately 3,500 bears in Vietnamese farms are thought to have been caught as cubs in the wild and then raised for the painful extraction of bile from their gall bladders.
ENV produced this powerful public service announcement to persuade people not to drink bear bile wine.
This article has touched upon key elements of their work, you can read more about the valuable environmental conservation work of Education for Nature-Vietnam in ENV’s February Newsletter. ENV always welcomes new members. Membership fees help to sustain their very valuable work on Vietnam’s front-lines of conservation.