by Hong Minh
Three deaths in a week of endangered species have shocked the social network community and general public, focusing even closer attention on Viet Nam's woeful record in the protection of endangered wildlife.
A dozen photos posted on a young man's Facebook last week allegedly show him and his friends torturing and then killing two monkeys.
Even before the identities of the men and the species of the monkeys were known, a wave of indignation and severe criticism of the killers' cruelty and stupidity attracted the involvement of authorities.
The perpetrators were later identified as soldiers while the monkeys were said to be grey-shanked doucs (Pygathrix cinerea), an extremely rare species found only in the Central Highands of Viet Nam and listed as one of the world's 25 most endangered primates. Scientists believe there are less than 1,000 individuals surviving. The men face prosecution and military punishment.
While the story about the doucs still wrankles, the public were also informed that an indian bison (Bos gaurus) ran amok at Thua Thien-Hue airport and an 86kg giant catfish was caught in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of An Giang.
Both succumbed to man's intervention. And both are rare creatures with declining populations.
All sad news. However, these recent tragedies did serve to raise a wider awareness of the need for wildlife protection, evidenced by expressions of concern from the public.
In fact, hotlines have been busy over the past few years with information of violations as people become more environmentally conscious. Students are being taught about the interdependence of all life. And the media is railing over the consequences of destroying biological diversity, along with new concepts such as climate change and the rise in sea levels.
But such efforts somehow are still ineffective. A recent report from the World Wide Foundation ranked Viet Nam as the worst among 23 Asian and African countries for crimes against wildlife. The country was said to be weak in the protection of wild animals, especially the elephant, tiger and rhino.
Every year, there are thousands of endangered species being killed or traded, despite the country's full membership since 1994 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention.
Ecologists say reported violations are only the tip of the iceberg. One NGO in nature education estimates regular reports on illegal trafficking and hunting of wild and endangered animals represent only 20 per cent of what's really happening.
Wild animals are still on the menus of restaurants all over the country, especially near mountains and forests, where they are called "special dishes of the forest". And hunting for elephant ivory and tiger parts for decoration and traditional medicine is still going on.
In the foundation's report, Viet Nam is listed as "the" major destination for rhino horns trafficked from South Africa. Many people are willing to pay big money for the horn, in the widely dispelled belief it cures many diseases.
Wildlife protection laws, such as the Law on Environment Protection, Law for the Biological Diversity and the Criminal Code, are still loose and education is like water off a duck's back to the hunters, who are still killing and trafficking to satisfy a "voracious appetite".
Meanwhile, patrols to prevent illegal hunting activities are obviously not having much success, judging by the increasing number of violations, and the powers that be appear to simply pay lip service to the need for education.
All around them people still use elephant ivory and tiger skins for home decorations and continue to buy the widely discredited cure-all medicines made from rhino horn.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the serious message on protecting wildlife, and for that matter the environment, is not getting through? — VNS