|Feathered friends: The Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park, thre centre of the Lang Biang Biosphere Reserve, is home to many threatened bird species. — Photo courtesy of the National Park
The Lang Biang Biosphere Reserve is home to an array of species, making it ideal for research and eco-tourism. Bach Lien & Phuoc Buu report.
It has been seven years since Dr Brandon Buckley from Columbia University in New York cooperated with the Bidoup - Nui Ba National Park in Lam Dong Province as part of biodiversity and climate research projects.
During those seven years, he returned to this national park many times. Yet every time he arrived, he was amazed by the beauty of the area and its valuable biodiversity.
"This place is amazing... It has some of the largest amounts of biodiversity I've ever seen. It's one of the most important hotspots in biodiversity in Southeast Asia," he said.
The Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park is the core of the huge Lang Biang Biosphere Reserve, which was recognised as a world biosphere reserve in June last year.
It is among 20 new sites that have been added to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of the International Co-ordinating Council of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB).
These additions were made by the Council during its 27th session held in Paris from June 8 to 12.
The MAB Programme is an intergovernmental scientific programme set up by UNESCO in the early 1970s with the aim of improving interactions between people and their natural environments on a global scale. Biosphere reserves are places for learning about sustainable development, while reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with the sustainable use of natural resources. New reserves are designated each year by the International Co-ordinating Council of the Programme.
UNESCO recognition has increased the number of world biosphere reserves in Viet Nam to nine, though this is the first world biosphere reserve in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam.
Pham Sanh Chau, general secretary of the Viet Nam National UNESCO Committee, stated that setting aside the reserve was UNESCO's acknowledgement of Viet Nam's contributions to international treaties on the environment and bio-diversity conservation issues signed by the country.
Rare and endangered
The Lang Biang Reserve covers an area of 275,439ha to the north of Lam Dong Province, with its core area of 56,000ha encompassing Bi Doup-Nui Ba National Park. An 86,000ha buffer zone, in which human settlements are permitted, surrounds the reserve.
The remaining 118,000ha include the wide transitional area covering parts of Da Lat City, Lac Duong, Lam Ha, Duc Trong and Don Duong districts.
The Lang Biang biosphere reserve's core area, which is a national centre for biodiversity protection, is home to more than 2,000 flora species and nearly 400 fauna species, of which 153 species are named in Viet Nam's Red Book and 154 are included in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The World Wildlife Fund regarded the area as a first priority in its preservation programme for the southern part of the Truong Son Mountain Range.
Vice Chairman of the Lam Dong People's Committee Pham S said this was an area with great potential for scientific research, eco-tourism and education.
He hopes the area will see rapid growth in tourism in the future, similar to Trang An in Ninh Binh Province and Son Doong Cave in Quang Binh Province.
"This area is more interesting than eight other biosphere reserves in Viet Nam, thanks to its perfect location and important value," he added.
|Soaring in the clouds: Lang Biang Biosphere Reserve has attracted an increasing number of Vietnamese and international tourists. — VNA/VNS Photo Phuong Hung
It is located in the famed Da Lat city at the highest altitude, compared to the country's 8 other biosphere reserves, with Bidoup peak measuring 2,287m high in Da Nhim Village. The highest Bidoup peak is known as the Roof of the Central Highlands.
Moreover, it has been highly praised by tourists and experts due to its biodiversity, special natural landscapes with high mountains and beautiful waterfalls, and its rich culture displayed by local inhabitants from different ethnic groups.
Do Van Ngoc, vice director of Bidoup - Nui Ba National Park, has noted that Lang Biang is closely connected with the rich culture of the Central Highlands region and the gong culture. The area of the gong culture was recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.
Pham S said he hoped that UNESCO's recognition would help Lam Dong carry out its strategy for sustainable development through preserving and developing the values of ecosystems of the Lang Biang biosphere reserve.
It is also expected to turn Da Lat into a tourism centre, and an international research centre of tropical forests, while continue to promote its development of high tech agriculture production, with key products being vegetables, flowers and other organic agricultural products.
Dr Le Van Huong, director of Bidoup Nui Ba National Park, added, "UNESCO's recognition creates great opportunity for sustainable development for Lam Dong Province and Da Lat city, in particular for its local inhabitants, many of whom are ethnic minorities. Moreover, the area will attract more tourists to Da Lat. They will enjoy wonderful areas for sightseeing and working."
To attract more tourists to the area and improve the livelihoods of the local community, residents will be trained to take part in the region's tourism projects. The five-year project, which has been carried out by Lam Dong authorities and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which began late last year, aiming to enhance the national capacity for sustainable natural resource management by focusing on forests, biodiversity and people who depend upon these natural resources for their livelihoods.
The project seeks to generate revenues for the local community to reduce their dependence on the forest's resources. Many local inhabitants have only relied on forest resources to make their livings.
Local residents will learn to dance to the music of the gong and weave brocades. Also, residents will be trained to better communicate with customers and to become tour guides escorting visitors to the Thien Thai waterfall, Langbiang mountain, Bidoup national park, the isolated village of Dung Ia Jieng, the only village lying at the heart of the Bidoup national park, and to visit members of the Co Ho Cil ethnic group.
These new policies are designed to help local residents learn how to protect the environment and earn their living from it.
Key to forest protection
Since 2003, many classes were opened at Lam Dong province's college, and for high school students, to teach about environmental protection, while observing and researching animal life and plants in the Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park.
Also, beginning a few years ago, local residents in Lam Dong province were handed the key to protecting their forest.
More than 8,000 households have signed contracts with the Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park and Da Nhim Protected Watershed Forest to provide environmental protection services. Each household receives about VND20 million a year, or roughly US$800, depending on how much land they have been allocated.
The government's new policy, entitled "payment for forest ecosystem services" aims to compensate farmers, in return for patrolling assigned forest areas to prevent logging, hunting, and other illegal activities. Many farmers are now also patrolling forests. However, this compensation only meets less than half of their families' daily needs, so participants still have to supplement this by growing coffee or providing labour for other households.
According to a recent research project undertaken by the JICA Bidoup-Nui Ba, nearly 79 per cent of local inhabitants living in the core areas and buffer area of the Bidoup- Nui Ba national park are ethnic minority groups. Some 87 per cent of their revenues come from agriculture. However, not many of these residents live well solely on agriculture, because the agricultural land is limited to less than 1ha, and they use backwards farming techniques to grow coffee varieties that are in less demand.
Therefore, many local inhabitants have to live on harvesting forest resources.
Further, due to low educational standards, a lack of awareness about the protection of nature, and the environment of the local ethnic minorities around the National Park, many fail to protect the environment.
Further, residents continue to participate in illegal activities, such as clearing forests to create agricultural land, logging, and hunting animals. Officials also note that such activities inadvertently cause forest fires.
These illegal activities directly threaten forest conservation and biodiversity at the national park and create challenges to the Lang Biang biosphere reserve.
Pham S considers UNESCO's recognition to be a challenge and it has become a force for greater efforts to develop and protect the wildlife reserve.
"The country and Lam Dong Province face big challenges, such as the challenge in maintaining the main functions of a biosphere reserve. They include conservation functions, a development function and a logistics function," he remarked.
As he explained, conservation functions mean contributing to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species, and genetic variations. Development functions refer to fostering economic and human development that is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable.
Logistics functions involve providing support for research, monitoring, education and information exchanges related to local, national, and global issues of conservation and development.
Steps for preservation
Pham S is committed to carrying out projects to effectively manage and conserve the Lang Biang biosphere reserve, under the motto of the ICC MAB.
He emphasised the need to develop and preserve the site, focusing on international co-operation and human resources, as well as elevating the image of Lam Dong among international friends through tourism.
"We are designing a number of action plans, including the establishment of a management board and a technical project supported by the Japanese Government," he said.
"Lang Biang will strengthen its connections with domestic and international nature reserve networks in a bid to exchange expertise to perform more effective conservation work," he said.
Sharing Pham S's ideas, Dr Le Van Huong, director of Bidoup Nui Ba National Park, said it was very important to preserve the biodiversity, while maintaining the balance between local development and sustainable development of the natural environment.
"After UNESCO's recognition, I believe that it has become very important to preserve the ecosystem sustainability of the biosphere reserve. We want to preserve this area to develop it, while taking care of the local inhabitants living in this area," he said.
"We have asked the provincial People's Committee to create a management forum, where scientists, authorities and local inhabitants can share their opinions and thoughts about ways to develop and preserve the area," said Huong.
"I also believe that it is important to increase public awareness about their rights and responsibilities when taking part in the development and preservation of the area."
According to Huong, through the use of media publications, it is important to encourage the public, students and tourists to understand the value of forests, rare and precious flora and fauna and the benefits of protecting forests and development, as well as the preservation of natural resources, promoting community participation and the protection of natural resources in the country's development.
The 275,000ha Lang Biang biosphere reserve, which mainly lies in Lam Dong Province, is also connected to three important areas, including the Phuoc Binh National Park in the east, the Truong Sinh National Park in the northwest, and the Hon Ba natural reserve in the northeast.
"Together, they form a huge area and a unique place in Viet Nam, with primeval forests making up more than 300,000ha," he said.
Meanwhile, Professor Brandon Buckley said he believed the key to actually preserving and conserving this area is through research and education.
"We should teach people through research projects, making them interested in preserving the area," he said. "We encourage the involvement of the local population in the work we do."
"During our annual field school at the national park, we combine research that we do with teaching people from the international community to care about the reserve when they come."
The UNESCO recognition and the efforts of local authorities to preserve the area are expected to attract more tourists to the biosphere reserve.
Nguyen Luong Minh, director of Bidoup Nui Ba Ecotourism and Education Center, said the number of tourists coming to the national park increases each year. In 2014, 6,800 tourists visited this area, marking an increase of 31 per cent over 2013. In 2015, 7,800 tourists arrived, which was an increase of 114 per cent over 2014, of which 30 per cent were international tourists and 50 per cent were Vietnamese students.
It is expected the area will attract one million tourists by 2020. — VNS