Studying in the UK, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Thảo had many opportunities to choose a job with a high salary. She, however, decided to go to Africa to take part in wildlife protection programmes and returned to Việt Nam with many dreams. Việt Nam News talks with Thảo about her desire to protect wild animals and her future plans.
Nguyễn Ngọc Như Thảo
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us about yourself and your current job?
My name is Nguyễn Ngọc Như Thảo (Thảo Nguyễn). I am a wildlife conservationist and wildlife photographer/cinematographer and consultant on environmental and conservation issues.
I work for non-profit conservation organisations such as Born Free Foundation and Remembering Wildlife that represent the interests of humans not yet born and species that cannot talk.
I have spent the last five years with Remembering Wildlife, best known for promoting awareness of nature and wildlife conservation, and also providing on-the-ground work such as ranger support, reserve management, and breeding and care-giving for rhinos, giraffes, lions, orangutans and other endangered animals in Africa and Asia.
Through 2015 up to early 2020, I was closely involved with animal reserves and orphanages in different areas, such as South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, and the high Arctic. I was involved in documenting the wildlife and the efforts that go into protecting the natural habitats and animals there.
I have spent long periods of time at Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Care for the Wild International, some of the most well-known conservation organisations at the forefront of environmental protection.
Thảo and a colleague take care of a rhino in Africa. Thảo has loved to take care of animals since she was a child. — VNS Photo
Inner Sanctum: Why did you decide to work as a wildlife conservationist after studying for another career at university?
Since I was a kid, I've always been curious and into nature. I loved watching TV shows back then like Thiên nhiên hoang dã (Wild Nature) or Thế giới động vật (Animal World), and I read a lot about animals. While all of my mates stayed away from insects or other kinds of animals, I found them fascinating, I felt sad reading news about pangolins that were facing extinction, and when reading Doraemon, anger also brought me to tears when I read about bear bile farming.
However, I did not know what to do, so I just went to study and work as an interior designer. During that time, I joined many volunteer events about animals and the environment, and the more I got involved, the more I realised I wanted to do something more impactful. Then I decided to go back to university to study zoology and conservation.
Inner Sanctum: You worked in Africa a long time. Please tell us about your interesting experiences, if any, during your time there?
Joy and sadness occurred during the time I worked in Africa. Daily interactions with the animals, especially the baby rhinos who lost their mother to the poachers, and then seeing them suffering, healing and being themselves back in the wild, caused mixed feelings. Or when we found out that one of our colleagues who was shot to death by a poacher, or some nights going to sleep but staying half awake to prepare for the worst ... All of these experiences are indescribable feelings.
Inner Sanctum: How will your experiences in Africa help you in Việt Nam?
I find myself so lucky to have a chance to be in the field, witness what happened to our mother Earth, to our species around the world, learn to live in a remote environment, and deal with pressure and many difficulties in different cultures, languages and danger.
Working closely in the conservation field also helps me understand more why people get involved in wildlife trading and the ways to prevent it. Coming back to Việt Nam, I just simply shared stories about my journeys, about the unseen facts of the animals and environment through my workshops to raise awareness. Then I started to collaborate with some companies to bring environmental awareness to the company culture.
I'm also working with Oxalis on conservation of the Hà Tĩnh Langur project, and adventure trips for people to discover Tú Làn cave and also visit Hà Tĩnh langurs, one of the endangered species in Việt Nam.
Inner Sanctum: Are there difficulties to being a wildlife conservationist in Việt Nam? How do you address that?
Being a wildlife conservationist requires a lot of love for wild animals, patience to care for them and speak their language, knowledge to protect them in the right way, bravery to deal with danger… you need enough of those abilities and desires to sacrifice your time and even your life.
In Việt Nam we don’t have many foundations yet, and some local people I know do this as volunteers without getting paid, without the protection and support of any foundation behind them. That’s also a reason people don’t see wildlife conservationists in Việt Nam because it's hard to make a living.
In Việt Nam, people have not yet paid enough attention to environmental issues. There are probably many other things occupying them, and also there could be very little information about the issue, and even if there is, it's just on the surface. Environmental issues belong to macro problems, so people hesitate to care about them. I hope that is something we can change in the near future, step by step.
Inner Sanctum: Do you have any plans to raise public awareness of wildlife protection?
I strongly believe education is the key to everything. I can't say if I can educate and change people, but I will just try to do my best about what I believe in. I'm planning to create a group or organisation as a place for anyone to access environmental knowledge in more casual ways.
Working more deeply with trustworthy companies such as Oxalis to create conservation tours, so that people can both travel and learn about the environment. Some of the profits will go to conservation and community funds to help with animals and the local people in these areas. — VNS