Dr Nguyen Ba Thu, a long-serving Vietnamese champion for protected areas and nature conservation and IUCN supporter, sadly passed away on 13 March 2018. Dr Nguyen Ba Thu was the former Director of Cúc Phương National Park, Viet Nam’s first official protected area, and former Director of the Viet Nam National Forest Protection Department. He was a member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.
In his latter role with the National Forest Protection Department he oversaw the development of Viet Nam’s protected area network and helped improve the capacity and infrastructure for more effective management of sites.
Under his direction, international assistance to Viet Nam’s conservation efforts increased more than tenfold, and he helped introduce a number of forward-thinking reforms and improved governance of the nature conservation estate. He embraced the integration of protected areas into their landscapes and he promoted and implemented connectivity conservation, most notably in the Central Truong Son region, Central Viet Nam.
Dr Nguyen Ba Thu was an able political force for conservation in Viet Nam and successfully elevated the role of protected areas into broader national development strategies and processes. He was never shy to voice his support for improved policies and practices. He worked ceaselessly to limit the rampant illegal wildlife trade in the country and was an active member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, especially to promote conservation for iconic species such as the Saola.
His conservation leadership began in Viet Nam’s first National Park, Cúc Phương, which was established in 1962 as a visionary future safeguard for forest resources by President Ho Chi Minh, at a time when the country was under severe strife and conflict. He was assigned there as an early pioneer, helping to literally build up the park infrastructure from a small hamlet deep in the forest, in an area inhabited by ethnic Muong villagers.
He was the Deputy Director from 1977-1983 and became Director in 1984 – around the same time as Viet Nam’s doi moi (‘renovation’) social and economic policies resulted in exposure to new threats, and new opportunities. The threats came from an open door trade policy which placed a rapid and almost insurmountable demand on Viet Nam’s wildlife and timber resources. The opportunities came from an influx of international cooperation and technical assistance.
Cúc Phương National Park under his tenure saw the first botanic garden and rescue and rehabilitation centres, firstly for endangered Vietnamese primates confiscated from the wildlife trade, and later for small carnivores, pangolins and land turtles. Cúc Phương also held conferences and offered training facilities for PA practitioners, and developed a tourism product for both Vietnamese and foreign visitors. Cúc Phương was positioned as a field centre and training camp for a new generation of Vietnamese conservationists – many of today’s leaders and champions cut their teeth on conservation issues in an around the National Park.
Nguyen Ba Thu’s international exposure – he studied and trained in Moscow and in zapovednik nature reserves in Russia - as well as hands-on experience of the challenging realities of conservation practice in Viet Nam, allowed him to maximise the opportunities and achieve significant results in Cúc Phương National Park, as well as nationwide.
After his retirement, he became the Chair of the Vietnamese National Association of Protected Areas, and he continued to be an active force for nature. His long professional dedication resulted in a national protected areas system in Viet Nam, and a cadre of active conservation practitioners throughout government, academia and civil society.
IUCN will continue to support and encourage his legacy.