VietNamNet Bridge – Starting with mice, fish became his passion. Dr. Nguyen Thai Tu has devoted his life to the search for new species of fish for Vietnam and the world.
In his house in Hung Phuc Ward, Vinh city, Nghe An province, Dr. Nguyen Thai Tu, 76, tells about his life which is associated with freshwater fish.
Born in Yen Son commune, Do Luong district, Nghe An, Nguyen Thai Tu studied very well when he was a boy. He then studied at the Huynh Thuc Khang High Schoolin Vinh City. After entering the Hanoi University, Tu selected the zoology faculty. He was determined to research mice and other rodents in Vietnam. Every day he went to rice warehouses to collect mice for research.
One day, Tu caught a brown rat to measure its size. However, the nightfall came so he put the mouse in a metal cage. The next day, he discovered that the mouse escaped through a hole that is many times smaller than the mouse size. From this, Tu discovered the ability of mice in shrinking their bodies to adapt to saving energy when they dig holes. Thanks to this discovery, Tu became the close student of late Professor of Zoology Dao Van Tien.
After graduation, Tu was assigned to teach at the Vinh University of Pedagogy, where the young lecturer both gave lectures and made research of mice.
In 1974, when the country was in big difficulties, Tu did not have money to buy iron traps to continue his research on mice. The young teacher had to delay his passion with rodents to find other research directions.
At this time, rivers in Nghe An had a lot of fish. Many fishing cooperatives made profit with simple and inexpensive gears. Seeing this, Tu began to pay attention to freshwater fish, a new issue for the Vietnamese zoology that time.
Also at that time, Nghe An province promoted surveys of baseline resources to serve scientific research and economic development. Tu’s studies on freshwater fish was warmly supported by the province Chairman Tran Quang Dat and Professor Nguyen Thuc Hao, Rector of the Vinh University.
Nguyen Thai Tu and his students went to all rivers and streams in the province and live with fishermen to explore and collect samples. Their work “Freshwater fish in the Lam River” was highly appreciated by the scientific world.
In 1992, when Professor Nguyen Van Hieu launched the program “Basic scientific research in the field of natural science,” Tu was invited to join the program and was appointed as the chair of the state-level project “Conservation of biodiversity of the North Truong Son” which lasted for 14 years.
The most prominent result in this project is the publication on the freshwater fish in Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park. Tu also made public other works like: “Conservation of biodiversity of fish in the Phong Nha – Ke Bang karst region”, “Fish resources and the protection of fish in Vu Quang (Ha Tinh)” , “Fish fauna of Ben En” and other works.
Dr. Tu’s works were internationally recognized. Many foreign scientists came to the University of Vinh to work with him. In 1992, when joining Dr. John Mackinnon, chief of the biodiversity survey of the Vu Quang nature reserve of the Wildlife Conservation Fund (WWF) in Vietnam to find fish in the river, Tu found a new fish species of the world – the La Giang or Parazacco vuquangensis, Tu, 1995. Dr. John Mackinnon invited Tu to join another international research work.
During his hard time in Phong Nha – Ke Bang, Dr Thai Nguyen Tu and his colleagues attracted the world attention for their new findings. Here, Tu discovered dozens of new fish species for the world, such as the carp species that he named Cyprimus Hieni (after the name of his father Nguyen Thai Hien), Quang Binh mai fish… Of more than 500 freshwater fish species recorded in Vietnam, Dr. Tu discovered 162 species in Phong Nha-Ke Bang.
Mr. Tu also found out and proved that Phong Nha – Ke Bang is the fourth place where carp Cyprimus appears and the first place where carassius appears. In a narrow geographic area like Phong Nha – Ke Bang there are full four most important steps of the process of formation of new species.
Dr. Tu and colleagues surveyed every river and stream to find fish. Many times he spent weeks amid the North Truong Son jungle to only find a few small fish which are as big as the head of chopsticks. To find out the freshwater eels in Vu Quang, Tu and students had to trap for a month to catch the fish. Results of these days helped him confirm that the freshwater eel in Vietnam does not extinct because in 1936, after a French scientist caught an eel in Hanoi, no one found any more individuals.
Tu said he has collected nearly 200 specimens of the fish that he and his colleagues discovered. Dozens of which are new species of the world.
“The research, search, discovery of new fish species, the origin, the nature of them not only have implications for the ichthyologist of Vietnam and the world, but also contribute significantly to the protect the precious genetic resources, conservation of biological diversity and the development of fisheries, contributing significantly to the economic development of the country,” Dr. Tu said.
At the age of 76, Dr. Tu is not healthy enough to climb the passes and springs, but he is invited by many international organizations as their advisor for the fish conservation program in Phong Nha-Ke Bang.
Dr. Nguyen Thai Tu cheerfully said that the natural biodiversity of North Truong Son is actually a great lab that most advanced countries in the West do not have. This is an invaluable asset that nature has offered for Vietnam. “Vietnam is still poor so it does not have modern labs, but we have an ideal natural laboratory,” he added.
Dr. Nguyen Thai Tu has discovered 162 species of freshwater fish in Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park in the country’s total of 544 species, including many new species of Vietnam and the world. He has published 72 scientific works at national and international levels, wrote 10 books about fish, including the curriculum on Vietnamese animals and plants. In 2012, Dr. Nguyen Thai Tu won the Ho Chi Minh Prize for science and technology.
The fish collection of Dr. Nguyen Thai Tu
After decades of research, Dr. Tu has built a mini-museum
of the fish that he has discovered.
Ha Tinh eel, the fish that Dr. Tu spent at least half a year to catch
and prove to the world that Vietnam’s freshwater eel is not extinct.
The carp species which is named after Dr. Tu’s father name – Cyprius Hienni.
La Giang fish, discovered by Tu as a new species of the world.
It is named in the Red Book of Vietnam and the world.
The be fish, the species that is only discovered in Japan and Vietnam.
Quang Binh mai fish, a new species of the world.
Troc fish – the species considered extinct.
Dr. Tu said nearly 200 fish specimens that he has are all found in the North Truong Son.
Compiled by Tran Cham