|Watching out: The Tram Chim National Park in Dong Thap Province, covering 7,588ha, including 2,880ha of cajeput trees, is home to 198 bird species, more than 50 kinds of fish and268 other aquatic species. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyen Van Tri
by Tan Duc
Over the past few years, some veterinary experts, forest rangers and volunteers in Viet Nam have been rescuing and caring for birds, particularly endangered species, at a national wildlife reserve.
Tram Chim National Park in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap spans several communes in Tam Nong District. It is home to 233 species of waterfowl, amounting to a total population of hundreds of thousands of these birds, accounting for a quarter of the entire country's bird population.
Among the birds at the park, many are rare species listed in Viet Nam's and the World's red books of endangered fauna and flora.
The 7,300-ha park boasts vast expanses of lush cajuput, which have long been a haven for rare waterfowl species such as white-winged wild ducks, spot-billed pelicans, lesser adjutant storks and, particularly, red-headed cranes.
The red-headed crane is the largest of the crane family and is on the brink of extinction worldwide.
Over the past several years, apart from efforts to prevent wildfires and protect the cajuput forests of Tram Chim Park, particular attention has been paid to the conservation of the waterfowl - the park's special residents.
Bird vets, nannies
Among the forest rangers and volunteers riding a motorboat into one of the park's stretches of cajuput was Nguyen Thi Nga, a 34-year-old veterinary expert.
After half an hour of travelling across the wetlands, Nga signalled to the boat driver to turn off the engine.
She promptly grabbed an oar and gently manoeuvred the boat closer to the observatory, which is some 20 metres tall and built from green iron poles.
"We're at the bird breeding ground now. Please speak in whispers, or the birds may get startled," Nga, the team's only female member, murmured before briskly climbing onto a ladder leading to the top of the observatory.
Since she was a young girl, Nga, a native to the land, has cherished her dream of owning the area's largest bee farm.
She graduated from a local university's veterinary faculty, ready to turn her dream into reality.
However, after spending some time working at Tram Chim Park, she gave up her bee dream and became a vet and nurse to the park's waterfowls without even noticing the change.
She also saves and plays nanny to newborn birds that fall out of their nests during storms and acts as a trainer to fledgling ones.
Nga revealed that the 3ha breeding ground thrived robustly even though it was formed just over two years ago.
The ground is now a haven for over 10,000 nests, 60 per cent of which belong to the Little Cormorant, scientifically termed the Phalacrocorax niger.
The remaining nests belong to the dieng dieng (snake-necked pelican) and several other species.
At the top of the observatory, the nests are seemingly within reach, with the fledgling birds straining their necks as they wait for the food their mothers will bring home.
The breeding season for the two species typically spans from August to November each year, which coincides with the peak of the rainy, flooding season.
The Little Cormorant, which is by nature careless, generally builds its nest wherever it perches, including on unstable niches. As a result, its young often fall into the water during gusty storms.
"Helped by the forest rangers, we scoop them up and nurse them until they're strong enough to fly back to their nests," Nga said.
"Giang sen (or Indian crane, scientifically termed Mycteria leucocephala), which is listed in the Viet Nam Red Book, has seen a notable rise in numbers this year, with the current number estimated at some 10,000 individuals," Nga said proudly.
Founded three years ago, Tram Chim Park's rescue and conservation team now has six members, who are tasked with conserving waterfowls, sea creatures, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.
Nga is in charge of protecting the waterfowls and is assisted by forest rangers and volunteers.
Next to the observatory at the birds' breeding ground, rescuers have set up a camp, where two of them remain on standby day and night.
"The on-site rescue effort is integral to our conservation work. The rescuers provide emergency care and release birds that are strong enough to fly back to their nests on their own. Birds that are too young and feeble for this are brought back to our center, where they are cared for until they can safely rejoin their natural habitat," remarked Nguyen Van Nghia, a forest ranger and one of Nga's enthusiastic volunteers, who was on standby at the camp.
Nga and her team also take turns patrolling for sick or trapped birds and bring them back to the center for further care.
Their dedication had a positive impact on the locals, Nga shared.
A local couple once discovered a spot-bill pelican that wouldn't eat for several days.
"We examined the bird and put it on medication to treat its digestive disease. After four days, the bird made a full recovery. We were on the verge of tears then," Nga recalled.
Not long before that, her team had also admitted for treatment a lesser adjutant stork rescued by locals. The bird had injured its leg and couldn't fly.
After nearly 10 days in intensive care, the stork fully recovered and flew away.
"Some years ago, 10 per cent of the park's young birds were falling to their death every year. Since Nga's team was deployed, their hard work and devotion have remarkably reduced the young birds' fatality rate," observed Nguyen Van Hung, the park's director.
Nguyen Hoang Minh Hai, a park official, said the park management would propose to the provincial authorities that Nga's conservation team be developed into a specialized center under the park's authority.
While Nga and her team have made tireless conservation efforts, poaching and trading of Tram Chim National Park's birds, including Red-Book listed ones, remain rampant.
Waterfowls are blatantly put on sale in public along several sections of National Highways 1, 91, 91B and on interprovincial road 943 in Dong Thap and the neighbouring provinces of An Giang, Hau Giang and Can Tho City.
On sale are plucked, slaughtered and even living wild birds. — VNS