Before leaving HoChi Minh on Monday 16th we took an early morning ride across town to meet Mr Nguyen Vu Khoi, CEO of Wildlife at Risk (WAR).
Originally a forester, who went on to work for various NGOs such as CARE & FFI, Mr Khoi has been working within the conservation sector in Vietnam for 20+ years and has been with WAR since Brit Dominic ScrivenOBE set up the NGO in 2004 in Vietnam. From just a team of three people in 2004, WAR has grown to a 26 strong group of staff working across their HoChi Minh office and Wildlife Rescue centres in southern Vietnam.
WAR work primarily to provide up to date biodiversity surveys, technical solutions for confiscated wildlife from the illegal trade through their rescue centres and try to release the wildlife back into the wild. In recent years, WAR have also increased their public awareness activities through wildlife education. WAR work with school groups in HoChi Minh city and involve students in a breed and release programme which releases Beta fish into Sai Gonrivers as a means of creating awareness of the environmental problems in the area.
WAR also assists the local forestry authority by operating two wildlife rescue centres which provide a home for rehabilitated wildlife that has been confiscated from the ever increasing and lucrative wildlife trade. 83% of all wildlife bought to the centres is released. Pangolins, Gibbons, Civets, Crocodiles, Otters and Bears are just a handful of the species that are rescued from the trade and bought to the centres. The wealthy elite still eat these species as a symbol of their wealth and with the huge profit available to traders selling these species it is not surprising people quickly become involved in it.
We were told that the bear bile trade is reducing due to availability of alternatives and the growing fear that the bile has been diluted with other products. But while this may be reducing the number of new bears being bought in to the trade, the situation for the bears already in captivity is still pretty dire. There are over 4700 bears in farms across Vietnam (2007-2008) so no one organisation can take them all in. Now that they are becoming of no use they are either left to starve or their paws removed for bear paw soup. The lucky ones make it to the rescue centres.
In 2005, WAR was the first NGO to implement a micro chip programme in Vietnam to keep track of the bears in the bear farms to ensure no new bears are bought in. This has created a centralised database which records all the bears in captivity, the first of its kind in Vietnam. WAR have been working with the local government to hand over of their Cu Chi wildlife rescue centre to full government control later this month. It is hoped that its current success will be continued into the future.
We also asked Mr Khoi what he thought the main difficulties are that face Vietnam’s biodiversity. He answered:
–Dams along the Mekong which reduce the flow of water down stream and make the delta increasingly saline.
–Law enforcement for conservation and a carefully considered transparent system is needed to tackle the wildlife trade.
–Lack of funding for practical conservation. For example, captive breeding for conservation is run over several years all on a non-profit model. Currently 80% of WARs funding comes from the founder and also the chairman of the foundation –Dominic ScrevenOBE.
We would like to thank Mr Nguyen Vu Khoi for giving so generously his time to answer all our endless questions so early on a Monday morning.
If you would like to know more about WAR please visit their website at the following address:
If you would like to make a donation to the work they are doing please message us and we can provide the necessary details.
Natasha and Lucy
Lucy checking out the Beta fish (fighting fish) breeding tanks – part of WARs awareness raising education program.