VietNamNet Bridge – After a series of disturbing media reports showed that illegal hunting and trading of wild pangolins remains rife in parts of Viet Nam, renowned wildlife activist Nguyễn Văn Thái has pledged to return to his home country and lead the fight against poachers.
Friends of nature: Wildlife conservationist Nguyễn Văn Thái (1st, left), with other Vietnamese students at Australian National University.
News about the recent capture of smuggled pangolins in the central province of Hà Tinh has caused anxiety for Nguyễn Văn Thái, a post-graduate student at Australian National University (ANU).
According to Vietnamese media, on December 7 last year, Hà Tĩnh police and forest rangers in the provinces Hương Sơn District found nearly 300kg of live pangolins carried by a van on Road 8A.
This was followed by another capture of l45 live pangolins weighing a total of 143kg by Hương Sơn police and forest rangers on January 27.
“We must prevent and stop all of this illegal wildlife trade from continuing,” Thái told Việt Nam News during a meeting at ANU in late January.
Thái said that soon after graduation from ANU he would return to a village near Cúc Phương National Park some 120km south of Hà Nội to continue his career as a wildlife conservationist.
“I must contribute to forest protection in our country before it is too late,” said Thái, 31, whose portrait can be seen on the front cover of the book, Wildlife Heroes: 40 Leading Conservationists and the Animals They Are Committed to Saving, by Julie Scardina and Jeff Flocken.
The authors of the book, which was recently published by Running Press, said that, between 2005 and 2009, 47.5 tonnes of pangolins had been confiscated in Việt Nam.
These captures motivated Thái to enter the Forestry University in Hà Nội in the early 1980s.
Thái said that a number of Vietnamese continued to eat wild animal meat despite the many stories in national media about the poaching and killing of the last Javan rhino in the country last year.
Wild animals have been hunted for meat, bones and skins, he said, adding that many of his neighbours had hunted wild animals in the forests surrounding Cúc Phương National Park.
Between 2005 and 2011, Thái was a programme officer for the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Programme (formerly the Asian Pangolin Conservation Programme and Small Carnivore Conservation Programme).
Although there are no reliable population estimates for pangolins, their numbers are sharply declining, according to Thái.
He said the two pangolin species found in Việt Nam, Manis pentadactyla and Manis javanica, were endangered.
Thái is also concerned about a recent proposal to move the Bear Rescue Centre out of Tam Đảo National Park in northern Việt Nam.
The ongoing conflict between economic development and wildlife conservation continues, he said.
After receiving a bachelors degree in forestry ecology from the Forestry University in Hà Nội in 2005, Thái applied for a job at a rescue centre for small carnivores near his home.
Wildlife warrior: A photo of conservationist Nguyễn Văn Thái appears on the front cover of the book, Wildlife Heroes: 40 Leading Conservationists and the Animals They Are Committed to Saving. The book, authored by Julie Scardina and Jeff Flocken, was recently published by Running Press.
Pangolins, however, could not be found anywhere in the forests around his home village, he said.
Though the law protects pangolins, these vulnerable animals are commercially hunted in huge numbers wherever they are found.
They appear on restaurant menus, and their scales are used in traditional Asian medicine.
“Pangolins comprise a large part of the illegal trade in Việt Nam, mostly smuggled across the border from Cambodia or Laos, or coming on boats, and often on their way to China, where demand is the greatest,” Thái was quoted as saying by the authors of the book Wildlife Heroes.
Pangolin and other illegal wildlife shipments often contain some combination of frozen meat, live animals and scales or other parts, he said.
In his native village, Thái set up the countrys first pangolin research and rescue centre with little money and support. But it was enough for the centre to survive.
A veterinarian from Australia came to help and donors from foreign zoos pitched in as well.
So, the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Programme was born, providing a shelter for live carnivores and pangolins when a wildlife animal smuggler was caught by authorities.
Tháis activities as a wildlife conservationist helped him receive a Au$128,000 scholarship from the Australian Government to attend ANU for a diploma in environmental management and development and a Masters degree in forestry.
He praised wildlife conservation efforts in the US, UK and Australia, saying Australias education would be helpful for his job in Cúc Phươngs forests.
“Rapid economic development has had a great impact on nature and wildlife conservation in Việt Nam,” he said.
Thái plans to return to Việt Nam soon and resume his job in Cúc Phương forests after finishing post-graduate courses at ANU in 2014.
“Im looking forward to helping improve the wildlife conservation situation in Việt Nam,” Thái said. “I want to contribute my part and do my best to help prevent the extinction of more animals, such as what happened to the Javan rhino, in my country.”