The number of wild tigers in Viet Nam has dropped to around 100,
half the figure less than a decade ago, a recent report released by the Ministry
of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has revealed.
In 1999, the Big Cat Specialist Group reported an estimated
200-300 tigers were living in the country. The animals have already been added
to the Viet Nam Red Book of endangered species. According to MARD, the major
reason for their dramatic decline is poaching.
Selling wild animals such as tigers is a hugely lucrative
business, raking in illegal profits only topped by weapons and heroin dealing,
director of the Asian Animal Fund (AAF) Tuan Bedixen says.
Tiger skins, teeth and bones can be readily purchased in major
cities. Last year Ha Noi police seized two live tigers and pieces of frozen meat
from four tigers as they busted a smuggling ring in the city, one senior officer
at Unit 2, says the Environmental Protection Division of the Ha Noi Police.
Other rare animals were also discovered in the raid. "This was the first
time that live tigers were smuggled through an urban area. It indicates that the
perpetrators knew what they were doing and had done it before."
Later the same year, police found two butchered Indochinese
tigers in a freezer in an apartment in Ha Noi’s Thanh Xuan District. One tiger
had been cut in half and the other skinned with its meat and bones diced for
rendering. Each tiger weighed about 250kg.
But smuggling isn’t the only problem. Illegal tiger breeding
is also on the rise across Viet Nam. Although Government policies encourage
individuals and organisations to breed and protect rare animals such as tigers,
this must be done according to strict guidelines, says Tran The Lien from the
Forest Protection Department in Ha Noi.
"Government decisions No 18, 32 and 48 say people can breed
wild animals but it’s important that the animals’ genetic origin is clearly
stated as well as where the creature was procured," he says.
Providing genetic information to help breeding wasn’t the only
issue, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The organisation states
that the animals’ environment must mimic their natural habitat to ensure they
can survive in the wild.
These regulations may be in place, but enforcing them is another
matter. A recent report by forestry inspectors revealed that breeders are still
not being prosecuted for failure to follow IUCN regulations. The report also
raises concerns that these animals are being bred for commercial purposes, not
Vietnamese tigers are from the Indochinese tiger (Panthera
tigris corbetti) species. In the past, they were widely distributed in great
numbers across the country’s forests and mountainous areas. Today they are
only found in 24 of the 87 established nature reserves and national parks,
according to MARD’s Forest Protection Department. But some reserves are quite
large, and a comprehensive census is currently underway to establish an accurate
Despite falling numbers, the Thua Thien-Hue provincial Forest
Department has reported evidence of three or four tigers living in Phong Dien
Forest, an area previously feared to be tiger-free.
Nguyen Van Muot and Nguyen Van Mua of the Co Tu ethnic group in
Phong My Commune reported that tigers had killed two buffalo in Rot Forest and
Ma Canyon in March 2003. Ho Van Bong of the Van Kieu ethnic group also said he
had spotted a tiger of at least 100kg drinking water in a stream while he
collected honey in the forest. Earlier in the month, a 60kg tiger was seen in
the Phong Dien Natural Reserve.
Also in that year, a team of scientists found tiger prints near
an animal carcass in the forest’s wet lands. "We are so happy to find
evidence to prove the existence of such a rare animal in the area," one
member of the study team says. "But the dry weather hindered our search a
lot because it was difficult to find fresh footprints."
removal: Forest rangers attempt to take down traps that
could harm wild tigers in the forest. — VNS Photos Nguyen Dac
Tiger cubs raised at a centre in Binh Duong. — VNS Photo
Nguyen Dac Nguyen
Department Head Hoang Ngoc Khanh says his department will devise
a detailed plan to protect the newly-found tiger population. With the support of
the World Wildlife Fund, he says, the country will build a web cam system to
keep a close eye on the animals to help research them and protect locals from
attacks. "Such a system could help us crack down on poachers," he
As well as the formal consensus on tiger numbers, MARD’s
Forest Protection Department has worked out a plan to protect and conserve
tigers until 2010.
Under the project, scientists will be trained on conservative
and biological research techniques to help them create a safe environment for
the animals. A public awareness campaign will also target people living near or
around forests, national parks or other protected areas where tiger populations
survive. Special attention will be paid to protecting virgin forests, areas
believed to be top tiger habitats.
Protecting tigers from extinction is an international issue and
Viet Nam will also boost co-operation with Cambodia, Laos and China to protect
and maintain tiger habitats, especially in national parks Pu Mat, Chu Mom Ray,
Chu Yang Sin, Bu Gia Map and the Pu Luong Natural Protection Zone, according to
an official from MARD.
Tigers have been on the rare species list in Viet Nam since
1960. So far, many forests that provide a natural habitat for tigers have been
classified as nature reserves in a bid to protect the animals. The country
became a member of the Global Tiger Forum in 1997 and signed a host of
international conventions on natural preservation, including the Convention on
International Trade on Endangered Species, and the Convention on Bio-diversity.
But as the trade in wild animals continues to boom, only time
will tell if Viet Nam’s tigers can be rescued from the brink of extinction.