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SOS Rhino : In the News : Park rangers battle wild game poachers

Park rangers battle wild game poachers

  Vietnam News
July 29, 2004

HA NOI „ Despite being one of the largest protected areas in Viet Nam, Cat Tien National Park continues to be stalked by illegal hunters.

Every month, forest guards say they discover over 2,000 animal traps in the park, placed there by hunters hoping to sell their prey on the exotic wildlife market.

To combat the problem, WWF IndochinaÍs Cat Tien National Park Conservation Project has focused on improving the skills of forest guards who are on the front lines of the battle to prevent illegal hunting.

In 1978, when Cat Tien was first established as a protected area, forest guards were ill-equipped and poorly trained, according to WWF Indochina.

There were very few facilities for forest guards and often, in the course of enforcing regulations, they came into conflict with local communities living on the parameters of the protected area.

According to Luu Van Hao, who heads the parkÍs forest guard, relations with local people have improved and many conflicts have been resolved.

He made the remarks at a seminar held to review the project, WWFÍs largest in South-east Asia, which ends this month.

The project was carried out in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, which took over responsibility of the park in 1998.

At that time, the mandate of the forest guards was expanded to include developing eco-tourism and assisting with scientific research, and forest guards frequently worked with national and international scientists to conduct surveys of plants and animals.

The guards were also enlisted to educate local people about the importance of conservation and, as a result of WWF project at schools, homes and community centres to talk about conservation and the role local people play in it, relations between the two have improved significantly.

To enable forest rangers to better enforce the law, they were trained to identify species, conduct patrols, and track animals.

They were given courses in the laws protecting wildlife and shown how to collect information to set up a database of violations for tracking offenders.

As well as classes, the training also included tours for several park employees of one of the first legally protected areas in the world, the Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa, famous for its herds of white rhino.

Cat Tien is famous for its Javan rhinos, which represent one of only two populations in the world.

In addition, the conservation director of Umfolozi offered three four-week training courses for Cat Tien National Park staff.

According to WWF Indochina, the training is paying off. The number of violators encountered dropped from 723 in 2002 to 564 in 2003.

But while the decrease is significant, the reduced number of violators is almost the same as it was before an upsurge began in the mid-1990s.

According to WWF Indochina, illegal logging has been reduced dramatically but birds continue to be trapped, fish are still caught illegally and the extraction of forest resources such as rattan, bamboo and exotic flowers is ongoing.

Statistics collected by the forest guards indicate that fewer large mammals are being hunted, but these figures are suspicious as thousands of traps and snares are discovered each month.

There are still problems, conceded Hao. Even when suspects are apprehended, it can be difficult to prosecute them.

Moreover, penalties are not always severe enough to deter lesser crimes, nor do they increase for repeat offenders, he said.

He said the laws need to be changed and that he wants local authorities and state forest enterprises to be more active in upholding Viet NamÍs wildlife laws.

Because the park is located in three different provinces, co-operation between the various authorities also needs to improve, especially if the increasingly lucrative wildlife trade is to be stopped, he said.

Forest guards and the HCM Forest Protection Department have co-operated in addressing the wildlife trade by jointly conducting educational activities targeted at traders and consumers.

Hao suggested that people be taught better farming techniques to increase production so they donÍt have to forage in the forest.

He said he also wants violators to receive vocational training so they donÍt have to exploit wildlife to make a living.

In the meantime, according to WWF Indochina, the forest guards of Cat Tien National Park will remain ever vigilant to protecting the wild elephants, rare rhinos, and other unique species that make Cat Tien one of Viet NamÍs most prized parks. „ VNS

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