Posted on 04.07.2023 | Tag: Capacity and Governance

Vietnam isone of the most biodiversecountries on Earth but,until fairly recently, it’sastonishing array of habitats, flora and fauna was obscured by political turbulence. The stability of the past few decades has revealed a remarkable natural history, rich in endemic species, and with numerous discoveries added to the nationwide inventory every year (e.g. Nguyen et al. 2015). This biologicaldiversity underpins much of the nation’s economy andisfundamental to the rural communities which make up the majority of the population (Convention on Biological Diversity 2014).

Growing urban prosperity and increased access to the global marketplace have driven illegal wildlife trade. Thebiodiversity, culture, economyand location of Vietnam have made it a key producer, consumer and transit point for trafficked wildlife, and as such it threatensboth national and international biodiversity(Squires 2014). Close proximity to China and long, remote land-borders with neighbours,all of which have significant issues with wildlife trafficking, facilitates and encourages the Vietnamese trade. Yet Vietnam itselfis the principaldestination for rhino horn (chiefly fromwhite rhinoceros, Ceratotherium simum; TRAFFIC 2012a), and is a major consumer ofboth ivory (from African savannah elephants, Loxodonta africana), and tiger products(Panthera tigris) (Ngoc & Wyatt 2013). Each of these wildlife products come from outside Vietnam.

Nonetheless, in Vietnam, these well-known, emblematic species represent the tip of a substantial trafficking iceberg, with a plethora of species traded to fulfil a range of uses, including religious ornamentation and medicines as well as being used as companion animals, clothing, and food (TRAFFIC 2007). The wildlife trade in Vietnam is all-embracing: African and Asian pangolins (Order Pholidota), primates (including lorises, Nycticebusspp.), reptiles (such as Chinese three-striped boxturtles, Cuora trifasciata), birds (e.g. Chattering lory, Lorius garrulus)and fish (notably seahorses, Hippocampus spp.) are all traffickedin Vietnam (Newton et al. 2008; Nijman 2010;Nijman et al. 2011; TRAFFIC 2017). Each (non-extinct) species referred tothus faris listed as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN, and is in CITES Appendix I or II. Wildlife trafficking is, not surprisingly, a lucrative business in Vietnam, with a 2008 annual revenue estimate of US$67 million(Nguyen 2008).The current figure is likely to be substantially higher.

Lack of capacity in conservation is a recognised issue both in Southeast Asia as a region (Deeks 2006; Sodhi et al 2010) and in Vietnam itself (Pham et al. 2010; Le 2013). Increasing Vietnam’s capacity to combat wildlife trafficking is in line with accepted best practice (TRAFFIC 2012b), with efforts typically directed towards front-line activities such as intelligence gathering and law enforcement. While these are clearly valuable, it remains the case that mid-level and senior positions within counter-trafficking organisations in Vietnam are routinely occupied by expatriates. This reflects the limited capacity of Vietnam to provide suitably qualified and experienced candidates, and an overall lack of career opportunities for Vietnamese conservation leaders. There arelong-established issues associated with development NGOs employing expatriate staff in senior positions (Mukasa 1999), and in Vietnam the complexities of both language and culture make it doubly challenging for non-nationals to fully perform in such roles, potentially impacting on organizational efficiency and productivity in an already stretched sector

The solutions in Vietnam, as elsewhere, are as numerous as the problems, variously involving stronger legislation, enhanced enforcement, social marketing, addressing rural poverty, and so on. At present, however, there is no medium to long-term strategy tocapitalise on this young, educated and internet-savvy generation’s growing interest and concern for the environment. To this end, WildAct and the National University of Hanoi are establishing a unique, multidisciplinary, post-graduate course on combatting wildlife trafficking, for Vietnamese master’s students and Vietnamese staff from NGOs working in the field, as part of a nationwide capacity building program against the trade. By developing capacity through developing people, counter-trafficking efforts are strengthened, organizational efficiency is increased and impacts and pressures on biodiversity locally, regionally and internationally are lessened. 

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The college course that trains Vietnam’s future wildlife conservationists