What hope for Vietnam’s highly threatened wildlife?

29 November 2011 | Article

In 2012, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE), Biodiversity Conservation Agency (BCA) will lead the preparation of a new National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). Vietnam’s first NBSAP was approved in 1995 (with a minor revision 2007). A lot has happened in the past 16 years so this new NBSAP will be a complete rewrite. It will need to include the Aichi Biodiversity targets, a set of 20 indicators that were agreed to at the CBD COP held in Nagoya in 2010. To produce a new NBSAP on time and of high quality will require input from many government agencies, research center, universities, and NGOs. It will need to be based on an honest assessment of what has worked and what hasn’t in biodiversity conservation. It will also need to set priorities. The below article, which was presented at a BCA workshop in Ba Vi on November 18, says, IUCN advocates for a focus on those species that are both highly threatened and endemic (or almost endemic) to Vietnam.

"The extinction of the Javan rhino from Vietnam confirmed three facts that were already known: first, that there is inadequate State technical capacity and commitment to protected area management and species conservation, despite substantial national and international support; second, that this is unlikely to change fast enough to ensure the survival of species that require intensive management and protection; and third, that alternative management arrangements need to be urgently put in place to safeguard the remaining strongholds of the most threatened species.

In its report on the Javan rhino extinction, WWF makes the same point: “Vietnam is on the verge of an extinction crisis with many other species threatened by hunting and habitat loss. Significant improvements need to be made in law enforcement and protected area management and in the way conservation organizations cooperate with protected areas to ensure that other species do not share the fate of the Javan rhino.” Of greatest concern are nine species that are both Critically Endangered and endemic to Vietnam—in other words, that can only be protected in Vietnam.

These nine “death row” species include five primates (Delacour’s langur, Golden-headed langur, Eastern black-crested gibbon, Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, Northern white-cheeked gibbon); two turtles (Vietnamese pond turtle, Swinhoe’s softshell turtle); one bird (Edward’s pheasant); and one bovine (saola). With the exception of Edward’s pheasant and saola, these species have restricted and well known ranges. This has the advantage of simplifying protection measures but the disadvantage that a large proportion of the global population could be wiped out by disease or hunting.

One way to safeguard these species would be to establish a National Target Program on Endangered Species Conservation. This NTP would include a new legal designation for priority sites that would confer total protection; designate a technical partner with management authority; and include a dedicated budget to cover core management costs and potentially a small grant scheme open to NGOs and universities to carry out research, etc. The NTP would initially focus on 3-4 relatively “simple” species such as the Eastern black-crested gibbon, Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, and Vietnamese point turtle.

Globally, there are numerous examples of governments granting day to day management authority to specialized non-state organizations. This arrangement is sometimes called “conservation concession”, an approach that was pioneered by Conservation International in the late 1990s as a cost-effective alternative to the sustainable forest management paradigm. A recent example is the Forest of Hope in Sumatra, where in 2007 the Indonesian government granted a Birdlife-supported foundation a 100-year lease on a 100,000-ha former logging concession that is home to up to 20 Sumatran tigers.

Conservation concessions in Vietnam may require new legislation. But precedents exist that the government can build on. These include the “bird’s nest” sanctuary on Hon Noc, which is part of the Hon Mun MPA in Nha Trang and is managed (and strictly protected) by SaNest, a private company. Another example is the clam cooperatives in Ben Tre. These cover 9,600 hectares and are managed by a company that implements strict sustainable harvesting rules. More importantly, this approach allows the government to leverage substantial non-state expertise and experience to prevent further species extinctions."