Tackling the illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam

By | 2018-01-12T08:54:09+00:00 August 28th, 2016|Conservation, Illegal Wildlife Trade, Species|0 Comments

20 Sunda pangolins live to fight another day!

There was a chink of light earlier this month in what is often a gloomy picture for wildlife in Vietnam. Synchronicity Earth partner Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW) successfully released 20 Critically Endangered Sunda pangolins back into the wild as part of the Carnivore and Pangolin Restoration Programme, a collaboration with Cuc Phuong National Park.

Vietnam is a country of astonishing biodiversity, yet the trade in wildlife, as in much of Southeast Asia and China, is pushing many of its species to the brink of extinction. Some of these have already been driven locally extinct and many forests now echo with an eerie silence – known as ‘empty forest syndrome’.

While pangolins are a key focus of their work, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife cares for a whole range of threatened species, rescuing and rehabilitating them at their centre in Cuc Phuong, Ninh Binh province. Most of these animals arrive at the centre having been confiscated from wildlife trade. The ultimate aim is to release them back to the wild when they are healthy. Save Vietnam’s Wildlife also works with rangers and government on education and awareness-raising and collaborates internationally to reduce wildlife trade.  Thai Nguyen Van, the Executive Director of the organisation, has been working on pangolins and other threatened species within Vietnam for over a decade.

“You may not know how it feels to hold a pangolin. But do you remember your heart warming up your chest every time you see your baby child smile? Trust us, it is just about the same.” – Thai Nguyen Van

Globally, there are eight species of pangolin, all of which are threatened, – four found in Asia and four in Africa. Two of these are found in Vietnam: the Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin, both of which are Critically Endangered and have seen dramatic declines as a result of wildlife trade. Both species are estimated to have declined by up to 80 per cent  over the last two decades. Chinese pangolin numbers are now so low, it is possible they have become locally extinct in parts or all of Vietnam. Pangolin meat and scales have become luxury products as the species have become rarer, meaning they fetch ever higher prices, creating a vicious circle of decline.

While trade in pangolin is illegal in Vietnam, in most cases contravention of the law does not incur severe penalties, so the trade can continue with relative impunity.

Save Vietnam’s Wildlife works hard with policy-makers and on international treaties, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to try to improve legislation and enforcement.

Yet despite this difficult and dispiriting context, groups like Save Vietnam’s Wildlife offer hope. Earlier this month, they were able to rehabilitate 20 pangolins confiscated from the trade and successfully release them back to the wild.

It takes weeks, often months for rescued pangolins to recover from the trauma of being captured and handled. Some have undergone extreme treatment and will be dehydrated or starving due to a lack of understanding of their basic needs; others will have picked up parasites or may have been steamed in water to try to increase their body weight for sale. Even so, after treatment by SVW’s on-site vet, being quarantined and then nursed back to health by their experienced keepers, these 20 pangolins were among the lucky ones. Once rehabilitated, they were accompanied by six dedicated members of staff, travelling for over 40 hours in total, to reach the safest known place for them to be released in Vietnam.

This was one small victory in an otherwise bleak picture for Vietnam’s wildlife. More funding and technology is needed to ensure that these individuals can be properly tracked to improve their chances of survival and to develop and improve release procedures to increase survival rates.

Save Vietnam’s Wildlife need as much help as they can get to continue this vital work. If you are interested in supporting them, please get in touch: info@synchronicityearth.org

Learn more:

To find out more about SVW’s work, and the release of these pangolins, watch a video about the recent release of the pangolins (Coconuts’ TV)

Visit the SVW Facebook page for the latest updates.

Learn more about pangolins and what’s being done to protect them on the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist group page: http://www.pangolinsg.org/