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Old soldier fights on to save beloved forest

Update: March, 05/2012 - 18:22

 

Tree huggers: Residents of Xanh Hamlet, in central Quang Nam Province, inspect trees in Na Trut forest, which is home to many valuable species of tree, such as lim xanh (erythrophloeum fordid) and lim xet (Peltophorum pterocarpum), which are highly prized by loggers. — File Photos
Barking up the right tree: Village patriarch Ho Van Ba has enlisted the help of other villagers in protecting ancient Na Trut forest.
Ho Van Ba, 79, has spent decades protecting the 400ha Na Trut forest from illegal loggers. He is a formidable adversary, having spent years hiding and fighting in forests during the American War. Sa Huynh reports.

A willingness by residents to commit their lives to protecting nearly 400ha of the Na Trut forest has earned their location the name "the village of rangers".

Village patriarch Ho Van Ba, now nearly 80, has spent decades fighting illegal loggers and calling on fellow villagers to protect the green of the forest.

As a soldier with experience under the rain of enemy bombs and bullets, Ba said he had a deep understanding of the forest and was grateful to it for saving the lives of soldiers.

Upon his return from military service in 1975, Ba decided to throw his whole heart into protecting his native village forest.

In the last 20 years since his retirement, Ba has walked through the forest everyday both for exercise and to maintain a regular patrol.

"In the past there were no trails in the forest, so normal people rarely entered here, leaving loggers the opportunity to take advantage of the situation to chop down trees illegally," Ba says.

A few years ago, Ba encouraged his villagers to create a trail that would facilitate their ability to take care of the forest.

Na Trut forest was home to many valuable tree species including lim xanh (erythrophloeum fordid) and lim xet (Peltophorum pterocarpum), he says, adding that one lim xanh in particular was 25m high with a diameter as big as 12 adult arm spans.

He is so familiar with the trees, their locations, and their features that he has developed stories about them.

"My grandfather told me about the big trees when I was a child. The trees still grow green. Surely they are hundreds of years old," he says.

It was like a tradition that has passed on from generation to generation, Ba says, since as children the villagers learn that they must protect the forest.

Ho Van The, Ba's son-in-law, says that most of the neighbouring forests around the village were already bare , so illegal loggers were looking at Na Trut forest as their next destination.

The loggers threatened local villagers after they were discovered engaging in their illegal activities, The says.

"Loggers said they would kill us if we prevented them from cutting down the trees," The says, adding that many people were unnerved by the threat.

Ba responded that it was the loggers who would be punished because they were in the wrong, not those who protected the trees and forest.

Trusting the veteran, many villagers followed his call to drive the poachers out of the forest.

In other cases, illegal loggers tried to coax villagers into their scheme by offering money in exchange for entering the forest.

Ba said that they even asked him to sell wood but he refused.

"Just VND1-2 million could help me live for several weeks. But we and our grandchildren and great grandchildren would benefit much more with a protected and preserved forest," he says.

Villager Ho Thi Thom said that everyone in the hamlet now followed Ba's lead. None of them even thought about taking money from the poachers.

Now, when traces of illegal loggers are detected, the whole village gathers to stop the destruction, regardless of whether it's day or night.

"The jungle is a valuable treasure. Protecting the jungle is not only meant to conserve animal habitats but also maintain our heritage for the next generation," Ba says.

As the village leader in forest protection, Ba is considered the eyes of Na Trut forest. — VNS

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