Preserving history’s treasures
Simon Speakman Cordall
By Simon Speakman Cordall in HCMC
Vietnam has some of the richest forests to be found anywhere in the world. Home to seemingly endless varieties of species, Vietnam’s wildlife is unmatched by anything on the globe. However, both history and the rapid progress of recent years have taken a toll on Vietnam’s natural resources, with some in desperate need of intervention by government and non government agencies alike if they are to survive.
One of the most ambitious projects underway in Vietnam at present is the Carbi, (Carbon and Biodiversity) project. Collectively the work of the Vietnamese government, the World Wide Fund for Nature, (WWF) and the German Development Bank, the Carbi Project is hoping to arrest and reverse much of the damage done to the thick forests of the Annamite mountain range of central Vietnam. These forests are amongst some of the most precious ecosystems to be found anywhere on the globe. During the 1990s alone - separated by a scant five years - two large mammal species were discovered here, the near legendary Saola and the Giant Muntjac deer. These, along with the tigers, Asian elephants, several species of monkey, the endangered douc langur, plus the countless bird and plant species that also make the Annamite mountain range home, combine to cement the region’s status as one of the most precious natural treasure troves on the planet.
However, despite its inherent value, the forests have come under continued threat from the illegal logging and poaching operations that prey upon the forest’s resources. It’s this depletion of the forest’s rich natural heritage that the project is hoping to reverse. Encompassing 200,000 hectares (494,211 acres) of dense Vietnamese and Laotian mountain range, the project helps to protect and foster better management of the forest to not only protect the animal species within, but ultimately, to provide a carbon sink for up to 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide.
Unlike similar, industrial scale, poaching and logging operations elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the problems that beset the forests of the Annamite range are more local in origin. Luong Viet Hung, Protected Area Manager for the WWF explained, “Villagers, and the ethnic minorities of the area, have been living off the forest for as long as anyone can remember. They come here to trap animals, gather food and to harvest timber” While little of their crop will ever make it outside of the villages themselves, this form of highly localised poaching is occurring on a scale that is causing serious damage to the forest’s ecosystem. Since February 2011, Forest Guards of the Annamite region have located and removed 12,500 snares and closed over 200 logging camps; more than enough to do irreparable harm. “If we’re to protect the animals and preserve the biodiversity of the region, we must focus on the living conditions of the villagers. “ Hung said. It’s with this in mind that the authorities will be delegating the day to day protection of individual strips of forests to the villages and villagers who have traditionally preyed upon them, something for which they will be both trained and paid for.
Vietnam is heir to as many hard legacies as it is rich ones. However, in terms of true value, its natural wildlife and fauna must rank above all. While it is a matter of speculation that a project such as this might have helped save the Javanese Rhino, the last of which was killed by poachers at Cat Tien in 2011, it is almost certain to improve the chances of the rare and precious wildlife of the Annamite range. Moreover, by placing the ultimate care of the project with those who have lived and worked within it for so long, the Carbi project looks to ensure the continuance of that legacy for generations to come.