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Green guards of Son Tra Nature Reserve

Update: February, 01/2015 - 16:58
Mountain view: An bird's-eye view of Son Tra Mountain. Photos Courtesy of Bui Van Tuan

Son Tra Nature Reserve in Da Nang, known for its rich biodiversity, is home to 200 Red-Shanked Doucs - a kind of langur that was declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2013. Efforts have been made by biologists to protect the primate, which only lives in east-central Laos and Viet Nam, from extinction as well as from the rapid urbanisation of Da Nang. Hoai Nam reports.

Le Thi Trang, deputy director of the Biodiversity Conservation Centre (GreenViet), and her colleagues were working hard as they climbed uphill during a trek at the nature reserve. They host these for students, along with two-hour educational seminars, on Sunday afternoons.

The regular Sunday programme is part of a long-term communication campaign GreenViet started in 2009, "I Love Son Tra". The field trips, designed for students, give them a chance to learn more about wildlife and get involved with nature.

Their aim in starting the campaign is to call on people to protect nature and show their love for it by being more environmentally conscious. Students can participate in environmentally friendly activities, like collecting rubbish on Son Tra Mountain.

"We hope to educate more teens and primary school students about nature, and the importance of wildlife and habitat protection in Son Tra Nature Reserve," Trang said. "Nearly 1,000 teenagers and kids have joined field trips to Son Tra Mountain to explore and learn about the importance of forests and protection of the endangered langur."

Sightseeing: Students join a field trip to Son Tra Nature Reserve.

Trang, whose nickname is King Kong, said two primary schools in Da Nang had included the programme in their extra-curricular activities.

The programme teaches kids about the reserve, which is at risk due to hunting and urbanisation. Its area also shrank from 4,900ha to its current 2,500ha between 1977 and the early 2000s.

Staying on course

Dr Ha Thang Long, head of the Frankfurt Zoological Society's representative office, said raising awareness about the importance of biodiversity in national parks and nature reserves was a good way for Viet Nam to stay on course in its goal of protecting nature and wildlife.

"People will gradually come to understand the importance of nature and wildlife protection through education," said Long, 38.

"In 2009, the Frankfurt Zoological Society started the Viet Nam Primate Conservation Programme, through which it financed research on biodiversity and langurs by Da Nang Teachers' Training College students."

Long, a langur researcher in Viet Nam, said the project aimed to strengthen the capacity of young conservators working on improving biodiversity in Son Tra and Viet Nam more generally.

According to the latest report from the Viet Nam Association of National Parks and Nature Reserves, the country has 164 nature reserves, with a total of 2 million hectares of special-use forest. But only 10 per cent of rangers have been educated on biodiversity. Only three or four of the 30 rangers working at the reserve are trained in biodiversity management.

Endangered primate:A photo of a Red-Shanked Douc snapped by a biologist of the Biodiversity Conservation Centre (GreenViet) in Da Nang.

The Frankfurt Zoological Society has followed a long-term strategy on biodiversity and langur conservation in national parks and nature reserves in Ninh Binh, Quang Binh, Khanh Hoa, Gia Lai, Dak Lak and Kon Tum since 1991, with an annual budget between US$200,000 and 250,0000 that helps pay for rangers to patrol the forests regularly.

"Only continuous forest patrols with sufficient financial support can effectively control illegal hunting and logging," Long said.

Leading to extinction

Traps and snares are dangerous tools that can lead to the extinction of endangered animal and bird species, especially in Son Tra, which is accessible by car and motorbike. It sees around 10,000 visitors per month, and GreenViet volunteer have found 150 traps in a just few days' worth of forest field trips.

"It's an easy way for poachers to make money," said Tran Huu Vy, GreenViet's director. "They spend one or two days in the forest setting up traps using steel wires, each with lassos on two sides of them. Then they return a few days later to collect the animals they caught. Weasels, squirrels, muntjac deer and civets fall into the traps very easily at night. A live animal could earn them VND6 million."

In addition to hunters, hotels, resorts and restaurants are harming wildlife on Son Tra Mountain. They set up pipe systems to draw water from streams on top of the mountain, which means animals further down get less sources of water.

Huynh Tuong Vy, a third-year student at Da Nang Teachers' Training College, has researched monkeys and biodiversity communication in Son Tra since 2013 with sponsorship from the Frankfurt Zoological Society. The rhesus macaque (macaca mulatta) is a breed of monkey living in Son Tra that hasn't yet been classified as an endangered primate.

Sunset: Son Tra Peninsula in the evening.

"I fell in love with researching the rhesus macaque, which is one of the best-known species of old-world monkeys," Vy said.

"Monkeys act like kids. They are lovely and intelligent. I even approach them when walking in the forest.

"I joined all environmental communication classes and summer extra-curriculars for primary school students in Da Nang."

The number of macaques in Son Tra is decreasing, and several would be extinct without biodiversity protection efforts, Vy said.

"The disappearance of the monkey will destabilise the ecological system's balance and biodiversity," she said.

However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said it was not as concerned about the macaques as other endangered animals, because of their wide distribution, presumed large population and tolerance of a broad range of habitats, she explained.

Wildlife watch

Bui Van Tuan, a member of the Viet Nam Primate Conservation Programme, offers night wildlife tours in Son Tra.

A 29-year-old biologist, Tuan has six years of experience trekking in forests and researching langurs. He doesn't do the tours for profit, but young people and nature lovers may accompany him on his night treks in the forest.

"The trip will provide young people a full view and angle of nature knowledge, and life skills for surviving in the forest," he said.

"They can then tell their friends and family members about the importance of protecting the environment and wildlife."

Tuan said it would be like a night forest patrol session, and guests should bring nets, insect repellant, leggings, hiking shoes, compasses, cooking pots and coffee filters. A GPS would be provided.

"Son Tra is a tropical evergreen forest, so it has a crowded population of wildlife flora and fauna," he said.

"The forest is ideal for wildlife adventurers. Visitors can see and snap photos of nocturnal animals. It's so exciting when you catch the colourful, twinkling, reflected eyes of animals."

Son Tra is home to 200 langurs (Pygathrix nemaeus). Trekkers can see them moving through big trees early in the morning looking for food.

"You should prepare food at home for lunch, because you must cook your dinner at the sleeping place near a stream," Tuan said. "It's a short trip in the forest, so you do not need much food or personal belongings."

It becomes dark quickly in the tropical evergreen forest, and adventurers must search for a place to stay for the night.

"By a stream is the best place to camp at night, as you need water for cooking," he said. "But you should not lay down your hammock near bushes, because of snakes."

The biologist said the night treks with flashlights and cameras are always amazing. Visitors often see civets, weasels, reptiles, frogs and birds.

"I have taken many photos of animals at night," Tuan said.

"The animals often stand up to take a look at the flashlight and it's easy to snap a picture of them. Vipers and frogs reflect the best colours for photos.

"The trip helps young people share their love for nature and become closer to the forest. It's the best way to educate young people about environmental protection and hunting."

Cyrill Russo, a French photographer, said Son Tra was a "green" treasure of Da Nang, with its myriad flora and fauna, beaches and unique landscapes.

Russo said the large amount of langurs in the area made the reserve an amazing part of the Son Tra Peninsula and Da Nang.

Trang from GreenViet said visitors should not litter in the forest, as it could poison the animals.

"We have launched fan page called ‘Let's Save the Red-shanked Douc in Son Tra' and another page called ‘Son Tra Little Green Guards', an education programme for kids, in a crucial effort to protect the environment of the peninsula and the rich biodiversity of the nature reserve," Trang said.

"It's a precious treasure. Protect the environment or we'll face the anger of mother nature." — VNS

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