Posts by Nguyen Thuy Hang

Can Vietnam Prevent the Next Pandemic?

As zoonotic diseases become more dangerous, Vietnam moves toward cracking down on wildlife trafficking.

A growing awareness of the links between wildlife trafficking and SARS, COVID-19, and other infectious diseases has prompted the Vietnamese prime minister to issue an executive order to clamp down on this vast smuggling trade in endangered species.

During recent months, conservation NGOs and Hanoi’s Ministry of Health have alerted the government to the increasing danger of new zoonotic diseases being triggered by the nation’s wildlife trade.

An Asiatic moon bear pokes from a trailer in an illegal bear bile farm in Khanh Binh village, Tan Uyen, Binh Duong province, Vietnam, Jan. 18, 2010.
Credit: AP Photo/Le Quang Nhat

HIV originated in monkeys; Ebola is believed to come from bats; H1N1 influenza came from pigs. Most recently, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is believed to have originated in bats. The number of such “zoonotic” epidemics is rising, according to a new UN report.

Most scientists have concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in southern China, started in bats. The intermediate host that transmitted the deadly virus to humans may well have been the much-smuggled pangolin, according to one Chinese study. This is still a working hypothesis, however.

Vietnamese health experts are closely monitoring these developments. Dr. Le Thi Huong,  director of the Institute of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at Hanoi Medical University, told The Diplomat that “the virus that jumped from bats into humans through an intermediate host, causing the COVID-19 pandemic, has shone a spotlight on how easily zoonotic diseases can emerge from wildlife, exposing a serious gap in the wildlife [protection] regime.”

In spite of Vietnam’s widely acclaimed success in containing the COVID-19 without a single death, NGOs are warning that the country’s huge wildlife trade, estimated to be worth $1 billion, leaves the door wide open to new viruses and pandemics that could emerge from a nexus of trafficking, wet markets, and wildlife farms.

Huong is calling for strong measures to be taken. “We must expand efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade that poses a health risk, as well as to close wildlife markets when they threaten human and animal health. We have to prevent this kaleidoscope of pathogens from entering the country.”

The executive order signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on July 23 is designed to remedy the poor enforcement of existing wildlife trafficking laws. The directive calls on ministries to revise and update laws to “Stop the import of living or dead wild animals, eggs, larvae, parts and derivatives of wild animals and resolutely eliminate markets and places linked to illegal wildlife trading.”

A large Malayan Pangolin (Manis Javanica) smelling the air searching for signs of danger in the state of Perak , Peninsular Malaysia. Photo by WWF Malaysia/ Stephen Hogg. One theory holds that the pangolin may have served as the intermediary host for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

This far-reaching directive seeks to enlist national security agencies to investigate and stop transnational wildlife syndicates that use Vietnam as a transit hub to traffic wildlife and animal parts, including rhino horns and ivory from Africa, to their final destination in China. The directive orders ministries to revise old legislation but does not replace existing laws.

However, some doubts have arisen over how far the government will go to outlaw the trade based on the statement by Ha Cong Tuan, the deputy minister of Agriculture and officer in charge of drafting the executive order.

Ha Cong Tuan cautioned that while “the government recognized the viewpoint of those [who want] an absolute ban on all trade in wildlife species, we should be very careful.” He added that “many wild species have been successfully raised” in farms, potentially blurring the line between the licit and illicit activities.

Thousands of wildlife farms conduct a lucrative business in southern Vietnam, supplying consumers and wild meat restaurants with no regard to the spread of infectious diseases. Many of these operations enjoy quasi-legal status.

anoi-based wildlife NGO Pan Nature sent a letter signed by 14 other environmental NGOs in February to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc calling on authorities “to close markets and other locations where illegal wildlife is on sale.”

Trinh Le Nguyen, the director of Pan Nature, expressed his concerns about the executive order released on July 23: “I think there it should be much stronger and with stricter regulations on wildlife farming. Several conservation agencies are working on further recommendations.”

A landmark scientific study based in Vietnam found that “Coronaviruses were detected in the majority of wildlife farms,” 17 of the 28 studied in the paper. The joint team of international and local experts identified six known coronaviruses in bats and rodents. The study concluded, “Livestock and people living in close contact with rodents, bats, and birds shedding coronaviruses provides opportunities for intra- and inter-species transmission and potential recombination of coronaviruses.”

Another study matched 142 viruses known to have been transmitted from animals to humans over many years to IUCN’s Red List of threatened species. The authors found that “threatened species with a population size reduction owing to exploitation … have over twice as many zoonotic viruses as compared to threatened species listed for other reasons.” The authors added, “Exploitation of wildlife through hunting and the wild animal trade have been hypothesized as increasing opportunities for pathogen spillover because of the close contact between wildlife and humans involved in these activities.”

While many coronaviruses never develop or mutate into a deadly strain like COVID-19, the fact that these viruses are widely circulating in wildlife farms is a clear warning to public health authorities about the potential for future pandemics.

But it is not only Vietnam that has to improve its laws and its law enforcement but the whole region. K. Yoganand, regional lead for wildlife and wildlife crime at WWF Greater Mekong, explained the major flaw in nearly all wildlife legislation: “Wildlife trade laws in most countries do not factor in infectious disease risks. This is a major gap in policy.”

He recommends that “To minimize viral epidemic risks, all commercial trade in wild animals and birds needs to be suspended by governments, to be followed by a scientific assessment of which groups of wild animals are at high risk of carrying viruses that can be transmitted to people.”

What worries UN Environmental Program (UNEP) experts is that most of the world’s coverage on COVID-19 has been focused on the treatment of the patients, the economic fallout, and the frantic search for a vaccine. Much less publicity is given to what has brought about this dramatic spike in viral epidemics – SARS, MERS, and now COVID-19 – and the environmental roots of the problem.

The destruction of forests and other natural habitats, along with wildlife trafficking, will lead to a stream of animal diseases jumping to humans, unless we do more to tackle the environmental causes of COVID-19, UNEP warned in a new report.

Even before COVID-19, 2 million people died from zoonotic diseases every year, mostly in poorer countries. These experts say the latest lethal outbreak was highly predictable.

“It was predicted that this was going to happen and it’s going to happen again until we learn the lessons,” warns Dr Jane Goodall the famous British primatologist. She says that nature is sending us a message: “Our disrespect of the animals we should share the planet with, that has caused this pandemic.”

Preventive health expert Dr. Huong agrees. “there is a clear need to take a ‘One Health’ approach to wildlife trade.” In Hanoi, the Ministry of Health cooperates with Hanoi Medical University in training human resources to develop the “One Health network” adopting the policy that biodiversity, respect for wildlife, and human health are all inextricably linked.

To avert the next wildlife-related pandemic, Huong hopes that Vietnam’s new government directive will bring “many more prosecutions, including online traders, and ideally put pressure on thousands of farms with known links to illegal wildlife trading.”

The prime minister’s directive looks set to bring about tougher legislation and stronger law enforcement to deal the international dimension of wildlife trafficking. But pressures from some of Vietnam’s powerful interest groups to protect domestic wildlife farms could still frustrate efforts in what could potentially be a historic breakthrough in the region.

Author: Tom Fawthrop, based in Southeast Asia, has been a regular contributor to the Guardian, Economist, South China Morning Post, and The Diplomat for many years.

Source: The Diplomat

Making CFM work in Central Highlands Vietnam through an inclusive landscape governance approach

Transfer of land-use rights from the state to the community to encourage community forest management (CFM) and use of forest resources for livelihood improvement, has been in place in Vietnam since the 1990s. However, while the policies, institutions, and approaches used to develop this model still continue to be developed and improved by the State and NGOs, the specific practical aspects of policy implementation and confirmation of performance still needs further evaluation.

In 2019, People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) – an MRLG partner organization in Vietnam – in collaboration with the Central Highlands University conducted a baseline study in two piloted CFM models in Yang Mao commune, Dak Lak province, Central Highlands Vietnam. The study was carried out with the specific objectives: (i) Generally analyzing the current situation of CFM models within the study area; (ii) Analyzing the potentials and constraints related to current forest management. We also looked across the two CFM models
for lessons learned and discuss the factors that influence the effectiveness of CFM on the ground.

Tul and Hang Nam village, are two of 11 villages of Yang Mao – a mountainous commune of Krong Bong district. The population of these two villages mostly are M’Nong ethnic group, with 105 households in Tul and 167 households in Hang Nam. Swidden cultivation (maze and cassava) and husbandry are two main livelihood activities in the area. Especially in the context of commercial crop boom and illegal migration of some Northern ethnic minority groups, the cultivation land shortage has been a major problem for many villagers in the area, according to the study household interviews.

The meeting of Hang Nam Village community for sustainable forest plan

The meeting of Hang Nam Village’s community for sustainable forest plan

 In 2002, these two villages were selected by the District authority as part of the pilot location for forest allocation program to the entire community with the area of nearly 1500 ha forestland (1,130.7 for Tul and 404.8 for Hang Nam respectively). Natural production forests, which account for 64% while the rest were barren land that was designed for tree plantations. The rights to forests of these two villages are specified based on the 50 years forest allocation indenture (Green-book), instead of the official land-use certificate, that including rights to use and get benefits from forest products (timber and NTFPs) for both household demand and commercial purposes and be allowed to call for investment in forest production activities. A local agreement on forest management and the benefit-sharing mechanism was along developed among villagers during this period.

The meeting of Tul Village community for sustainable forest plan

However, our assessment reveals that during nearly 15 years, villagers have not benefited much from the allocated forests, except NTFPs for household demands. The two villages have also not received any supports, both financially and technically from local authorities or NGOs for their efforts in forest protection and management. As a result, the allocated forest areas in both villages have decreased, appropriately 1.7-1.9% per year. The main causes of
deforestation are mainly due to encroachment and illegal logging. The lack of guidelines in forest management by state authority and the clear benefit-sharing mechanism also reduced people’s motivation to protect forests. The loss of these community forests also placed great pressure on the rich natural forests nearby.

Since 2014, the situation has improved greatly through the implementation of Payment for Forest Ecosystem Services (PES). Nearly 700 ha of community forests are under PES scheme. With the support from District Forest Protection Unit and local authority, the groups of villagers are organized to carry out forest patrol activities. Village rules related to forest management, which details local activities allowed within the village boundaries and under
PES schemes have been discussed and employed strictly. At the same time, groups of HHs (8-12 or so, are which tended to be households that lived near one another or are relatives), led by a group head, sign a formal yearly contract with state forest owners nearby as the Chu Yang Sin National Park and Yang Mao Commune People’s Committee (CPC) and agree to regularly patrol the specified area, prevent forest fires, and report outsiders. According to the HH survey, annually each household received on average ~1.8-2 million VND per household/year (78-87 USD/HH/year), accounting for 34-54% total HH forest-based income.

In the conclusion, the study highlights some key points that can influence the effectiveness of CFM in the research site: (i) The local villagers are already legally entitled to full benefits from the allocated forests. However, in practice, forestland-use certificate is necessary but not sufficient condition to guarantee local villagers’ right to get benefits from forests; (ii) Forest-related financial incentives, such as ecosystem services under PES and other investments in forest-friendly tree plantations or agroforestry play a very important role in promoting people’s motivation and desire in forest management post-FLA; (iii) the local social and political assets, such as the culture of a close relationship with forests, leadership, trust, local forest practices, clear regulation and responsibility, clear and appropriate benefit-sharing mechanism and collective action also can be considered as important factors in
designing and operating CFM; (iv) Engagement and collaboration multi-stakeholders, including local authorities, forest rangers, state forest owners and local communities in forest management is key for one inclusive and sustainable forest governance.

Instead of bringing up a new model, PanNature has tried to articulate the existing state and local institutions with the local political economy as well as local norms needs and desires to foster better effectiveness and sustainability of the CFM model in the project site. “Inclusive Forest Landscape Governance is the name of this approach and we hope it will be further applied and replicated in Vietnam’s CFM system in the future.”

Nguyen Thi Hai Van/PanNature

Calling for Cancelation of The Proposed Sanakham Project

On 2 June, Save the Mekong Coalition (StM) has issued a statement to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and governments in the lower Mekong region, calling for the Sanakham and other planned Mekong mainstream dams to be canceled.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) announced on 11 May that the proposed Sanakham hydropower project in Laos will undergo the MRC’s Prior Consultation process.[1] Sanakham is the sixth mainstream dam to be submitted for Prior Consultation.

According to StM, the proposed Sanakham dam is expensive, unnecessary, and risky – and should be canceled. The 684-megawatt (MW) dam would cost over $2 billion and take eight years to build. If averaged out over eight years, this means that Sanakham dam would be adding 90 MW a year, which pales in comparison to the installation of more sustainable energy options being rolled out in the region. For example, between April and July 2019, neighboring Vietnam added 4,400 MW from solar,[2] which is more than six times the installed capacity of Sanakham dam.

With the rapid changing landscape in power sector technologies and investments, there is a risk that large hydropower projects like Sankham dam, which take several years to build and require majority of financing up-front, will become stranded assets. Risks are compounded by climate change and existing hydropower projects upstream, which are making water flows and levels more unpredictable, which in turn will impact on the amount of electricity generated by Sanakham and other mainstream dams.

Most of the electricity generated by Sanakham dam is slated for export to Thailand. However, Thailand has a major over-supply of electricity, which has increased even more due to the economic fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the importance of the Mekong’s farmlands, forests, rivers, wetlands and fisheries as a safety net during times of crisis. Local people’s continued access to rivers and natural resources are critical to ensuring a more healthy and equitable recovery from the pandemic.

Despite the proposed Sanakham dam site being on the Mekong mainstream, about two kilometres upstream of the Thai-Lao border, there’s been no serious consideration of – let alone meaningful consultations on – the project’s transboundary impacts. Large sections of Sanakham’s Transboundary Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and Cumulative Impact Assessment (TBESIA/CIA)[3] are outdated and plagiarized from the Pak Lay TBESIA/CIA. For example, the chapters on Public Involvement, Conclusion, and Recommendations sections are the same as Pak Lay TBESIA/CIA, with the only real difference being the name of the project. The TBESIA/CIA makes little to no reference to multiple studies about the Mekong and impacts of hydropower published in the last ten years.[4] For a project that would impact a major transboundary river upon which millions rely, this is unacceptable.

Rather than proceeding with yet another flawed ‘consultation’ process, StM calls for the Sanakham and other planned Mekong mainstream dams to be canceled. StM urges lower Mekong governments and the MRC to address outstanding concerns regarding the impacts of existing dams; conduct a participatory and comprehensive energy options assessment and prioritise timebound steps towards a just energy transition that maintains the Mekong’s critical ecosystems while meeting and safeguarding the needs of communities in the region, address outstanding concerns on the Prior Consultation process.

For more details, kindly read the full statement here

[1] See MRC Media release, 11 May 2020, ‘Laos to undertake prior consultation for Sanakham hydropower project’
[2] See ‘Update Vietnam Power Sector’, presentation at the 26th Meeting of the Regional Power Trade Coordination Committee (RPTCC-26), Hanoi, November 2019
[3] See Sankaham Hydropower Project, ‘Transboundary Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and Cumulative Impact Assessment’, October 2018
[4] These include but are not limited to:  MRC Technical review reports of mainstream dams submitted to Prior Consultation; the findings and recommendations of the 2010 Strategic Environmental Assessment of Hydropower on the Mekong Mainstream; the findings and recommendations of the MRC Council Study etc, which are available through the MRC website

Reporters break forests news that stop illegal logging

Media coverage on forest governance has inspired Vietnamese authorities to take action to stop illegal logging and deforestation.

Read more →

Should ‘wet markets’ be banned?

Mr. Trinh Le Nguyen, PanNature’s Executive Director was joining Al Jazeera News’s online panel discussing wildlife trade and control measures in Vietnam.  

Coronavirus pandemic leads to growing calls to ban markets where many people buy fresh meat and vegetables. Scientists are still trying to confirm the exact source of the new coronavirus sweeping across the world.

It is believed the virus may have jumped from exotic animals to humans at a market in Wuhan, China.

That has led to growing calls to ban “wet markets”, where many people in Asia and other parts of the world buy fresh meat and vegetables.

Most of them do not sell wild animals such as bats. Scientists are nevertheless worried about the close contact between humans and wildlife in wet markets.

Should markets like these be banned?

Presenter: Bernard Smith


  • Trinh Le Nguyen – executive director at PanNature, a conservation NGO in Vietnam
  • Muhammad Munir – virologist at Lancaster University
  • Kaddu Sebunya – CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation

Source: Al Jazeera News

PanNature joined global effort to stop wildlife trade

PanNature has endorsed the petition to call national governments worldwide to act for a permanent end to the commercial trade and sale in markets where terrestrial wild animals are sold for consumption.   

The Coalition to End the Trade was launched by Global Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Conservation Society, and WildAid in the context of the spread of zoonotic disease COVID-19.

The Coalition to End the Trade aims to help ensure this never happens again by addressing the likely cause of this pandemic and others: the commercial trade and sale in markets of wild terrestrial animals (particularly mammals and birds), for consumption.

The commercial trade of wild terrestrial animals gives pathogens that have evolved with animals the perfect opportunity to jump to new hosts–humans–and spread through a globalized population. With this recognition, the coalition calls on all national governments to:

  • Enact suitable legislation to permanently end commercial trade and sale of terrestrial wild animals for consumption;
  • Empower relevant agencies to adequately enforce such legislation;
  • Develop ethical and equitable transition measures for those whose livelihoods are impacted across the trade chain.

The coalition has set a target of 1 million signatures to send a strong message to governments around the world that people demand change for global health and security.

Join us to sign the petition at

Dr. Dao Trong Hung, PanNature’s Board Chairman, passes away

We are profoundly saddened to announce the passing of Dr. Dao Trong Hung, who was chairman of the Governance Board of PanNature. He died on 23 April 2020 at the age of 67.

Dr. Dao Trong Hung (fourth from right) with PanNature’s board members and staff during a field visit.

Dr. Hung has been an active supporter of PanNature since our early days. With his lifelong experience and dedication in research, teaching, and expertise in the fields of biodiversity conservation and natural resources management, he has greatly contributed to the development of PanNature even before accepting the role of board chair in 2017.

We would like to share our condolences to Dr. Hung’s family. This is a great loss for his family, the Institute of Ecological and Biological Resources where he worked, and PanNature.

Billion-dollar wildlife industry in Vietnam under assault as law drafted to halt trading

Move will hopefully curb vast wildlife trade from farm, street markets, and online traders

Shoppers wear face masks at a market in Hanoi. Photograph: Linh Pham/Getty Images

Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, has asked the country’s agriculture ministry to draft a directive to stop illegal trading and consumption of wildlife over fears it spreads disease.

The directive, seen as a victory for animal rights organisations, will lead to a clamping down on street-side markets dotted across the country, increase prosecutions of online traders and ideally put pressure on thousands of farms with known links to illegal wildlife trading.

Vitenam’s move to ban the wildlife trade follows similar moves by the Chinese government, after the new coronavirus pandemic appeared to have emerged from a wet market in Wuhan.

Pangolins smuggled from Laos and found in a bus in Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province. Photograph: HANDOUT/AFP/Getty Images

Both illegal and “legal” wildlife trading flourishes in Vietnam, where the trade has grown into a billion-dollar industry. There are thousands of markets around the country, many of which include stalls selling animals for food or as pets. Anyone walking around some of the street-side stalls of the Mekong delta can see fish tanks stuffed with sea turtles or skinned-alive frogs.

There is also a thriving online trade in animals. Many sellers advertise on Facebook, uploading photos of leopard cats caught in mesh nets, dead pangolins stored in a freezer, slaughtered macaque monkeys, frozen tiger cubs, butchered bats or even freshly barbecued wildlife. They are bought as status symbols, pets, food, or to be used in traditional medicines.

Yet the largest issue in terms of Vietnam’s wildlife trade is the nation’s “legal” commercial farms, where you can see maltreated civets in metal cages or an array of rare reptiles. Across Vietnam, bears are still trapped in tiny cages on bear bile farms, while Nghe An province in central Vietnam is known for tiger farms.

“Opportunistic farmers can legally acquire licences for a plethora of species. Some of these species are incredibly difficult to raise in captivity while others are not economically viable to raise and sell profitably, but it has not been a common practice to involve third parties in the process of licensing farms, so the authorities are issuing permits to trade native species that can only be sourced from the wild,” Douglas Hendrie, director of enforcement for local environment NGO Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) told the Guardian.

“Additionally, in some cases farmers can get away with trading completely protected species which are not even allowed to be farmed due to authorities lacking education on species protection. With such a poorly regulated and enforced commercial wildlife farming industry few fear prosecution.”

“Animals from these farms and ‘conservation’ facilities are then sold via a huge ‘legal’ industry to businessmen, restaurants, traditional medicine shops and even across the border into China,” Hendrie added.

There is a thriving online trade in animals such as macaque monkeys (pictured), tiger cubs, bats or even freshly barbecued wildlife. They are bought as status symbols, pets, food, or to be used in traditional medicines. Photograph: Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images

On 20 November, Vietnamese authorities investigated a wildlife farm and temporarily seized 57 animals from 19 different species, the Guardian has learned. In this case, the owner was caught in possession of more than 10 species protected by law – a criminal offence punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It is this diversity of species – as seen in Wuhan’s wet market – that can lead to the spread of disease.

According to Hendrie, online trading has grown in appeal as sellers can hide their identity while reaching more buyers. Entire Facebook pages are dedicated to ivory, rhino horns and bear claws or posting photos of animals being caught or slaughtered. Last year ENV recorded more than 2,400 advertisements in violation of wildlife protection laws on Facebook, YouTube, Zalo and other online platforms, along with more than 600 people caught illegally possessing wildlife.

Vietnam began recognising protected wildlife species listed by Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in 1994. Currently, Vietnamese law prohibits the trafficking of protected wildlife products, such as pangolins or rhinos, and the illegal trading or killing of wildlife. Yet campaigners say the illegal trade continues to flourish thanks to poor enforcement. Convicted criminals can face imprisonment or a fine of more than $600 (£500).

Hanoi-based wildlife NGO Pan Nature recently sent a letter to the prime minister’s office – signed by 14 other environmental NGOs including WWF, Animals Asia, ENV and Traffic – calling on authorities to close markets and other locations where illegal wildlife is on sale. And the prime minister has now asked Vietnam’s agriculture ministry to draft a directive and present it by 1 April.

Trinh Le Nguyen, executive director at Pan Nature, said the conservation community in Vietnam has “unanimously joined hands” to propose recommendations to the government.

“We welcome the proactive response from the prime minister with specific guidance to relevant agencies for drafting the directive to completely ban illegal wildlife consumption and trade in Vietnam,” he said. “We hope to see Vietnam as a country free of illegal wildlife trade in a very near future. We expect unanimous actions of government agencies in enforcing wildlife protection laws.”

A moon bear rests in a pool inside an enclosure at the a bear rescue centre in Tam Dao national park. Across Vietnam, bears are also still trapped in tiny cages on bear bile farms. Photograph: Minh Hoang/EPA

The exact actions made possible by the new directive will become clear when it’s presented at the beginning of April. The 14 NGOs that signed the letter are pushing for the closure of wildlife markets, increased policing of online sales and an end to permits for transporting large quantities of wildlife.

Any suspicious shipments, they say, should be reported to police, while large deliveries of “legal” wildlife should be investigated to determine whether laundering was involved. If there is evidence of crime, farms’ licences could be revoked and sentences of up to 15 years handed out.

Source: The Guardian

Vietnam considers wildlife trade ban in response to coronavirus pandemic

  • Last month, conservation organizations sent an open letter to Vietnam’s prime minister recommending action against the wildlife trade as a means of preventing future outbreaks of disease, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In response, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc tasked the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development with drafting a ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife by April 1.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak has been relatively contained in Vietnam, with 75 confirmed infections at the time of writing, but the economic impact is severe.
  • Conservationists hope to see strong enforcement on both the supply and demand sides of the wildlife trade.

    HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — As the coronavirus pandemic continues its deadly onslaught around the world, the Vietnamese government has moved to ban the wildlife trade.

    Amid scientific theories that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) began at a market in Wuhan, China, that sold live wild animals and animal parts, a group of conservation organizations sent an open letter to Vietnam’s prime minister on Feb. 16.

    The organizations, based both within Vietnam and abroad, called on Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to “take strong and sustainable actions to halt all illegal wildlife trade and consumption in Vietnam.”

    “The emergence of COVID-19, with initial evidence of a link between virus host and transmitters from wildlife, pushed us to bring it to the attention of policymakers to address the risk, as well as the need to protect wild animals,” Trinh Le Nguyen, executive director of People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature), a Hanoi-based conservation organization that signed the letter, said in an email. “In addition, we call on the government to enforce wildlife protection laws and eliminate the illegal trade and consumption.”

    Prime Minister Phuc responded on March 6 by tasking the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) with formulating directives to ban the trade and consumption of wildlife and submit them to the government for review by April 1. MARD did not respond to request for comment.

    A pangolin in Vietnam. Pangolins are widely traded for meat and use in traditional medicine. There is some evidence that the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic may have originated in pangolins, but the matter is not yet settled scientifically. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

    In late February, the Chinese government permanently banned the wildlife trade and the consumption of all non-aquatic wild animals, including those raised in captivity. This followed a ban on wild animal markets nationwide, a reaction to the outbreak. However, according to the New York-based NGO Wildlife Conservation Society, China’s ban only covers products intended to be eaten, not those destined for other uses, such as traditional medicine or fur.

    “We would expect [Vietnam’s MARD] to look at reviewing policy around how wildlife is dealt with, both in terms of the international- and national-level trade, both illegal and legal,” said Benjamin Rawson, conservation and program development director at the NGO WWF Vietnam, a signatory to the NGO letter. “Our hope is that it includes directives around how you deal with wildlife as a food item, because that’s where a lot of the risks are in the supply chain, from hunters all the way to consumers.”

    Wild animal meat, while not widely served in Vietnam’s major cities, is relatively easy to find throughout the country and remains common in more rural areas. It is difficult to assess the size of the wildlife market in Vietnam, illegal or legal. The illegal trade involves high-value species like tigers, rhinos and elephants, while most smaller species are unregulated. The supply is a mix of wild-caught animals, such as pangolins and leopard cats, and animals raised on farms, such as civets and moon bears.


    A leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) in Vietnam. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

    Birds are particularly sought-after. According to a February 2020 report (pdf) from the international NGO TRAFFIC, in April 2016 a three-day survey in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s two biggest urban areas, found 8,047 birds from 115 species for sale, 99% of which were native to the country and 90% of which had no legal protection. The report also found numerous advertisements for bear parts and products on e-commerce sites that broke national laws.

    Rawson said he is encouraged by the government’s decision to act on the trade, especially amid the wide-ranging social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam. The multi-billion dollar tourism industry has been wiped out, with the major markets of China, South Korea and Europe either completely cut off or heavily restricted, while the huge manufacturing industry faces supply chain disruptions and the likelihood of reduced demand.

    There have been no reported deaths from COVID-19 in Vietnam as of this writing. But there have been 75 confirmed infections, many among foreign tourists, and the number appears set to increase.

    “Essentially, we have this COVID-19 outbreak, we have stock markets in freefall, general fear in the populace, a public health crisis, and it’s really a result of people wanting to eat wildlife,” Rawson said. “So if we really want to address this seriously, we have to get to the bottom of this demand.”

    Addressing wildlife trade and consumption will do nothing to staunch the current COVID-19 pandemic, but the hope is that it will prevent a global disaster of this kind from happening again.

    Much attention has been paid in recent years to Vietnam’s role as a consumer and an international hub of high-value species such as rhinos, elephants and pangolins, and awareness of the need to preserve these species has improved, especially among young Vietnamese.

    “Demand in Vietnam, China and other countries is certainly driving the poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa,” Rawson said, “but what is often overlooked is the biodiversity crisis that’s happening in the forests of Vietnam and surrounding countries, where wildlife is being snared indiscriminately for consumption.”

    A binturong or bearcat (Arctictis binturong) in Vietnam, where the meat is consumed and parts are used in traditional medicine. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

    How to end the trade

    Enforcement in relation to every step of the trade will be key, Rawson said.

    “That means tightening up the investigative work, arrests and prosecutions in the illegal wildlife trade, and the farming of wild animals is another key area that needs to be looked at very closely to mitigate future risk,” he said.

    WWF has been working on this within Vietnam by supporting enforcement agencies within protected areas like national parks.

    “But of course, it has to go beyond just the boundaries of protected areas,” Rawson added. “The key is addressing the drivers that cause people to go in and hunt wildlife. There’s money to be made by wildlife traders, so we do investigative work around identifying those traders and supporting local courts to make prosecutions [and] to understand wildlife-related laws and the severity of some of these infractions.”

    Awareness-raising on the consumer end will also be crucial, as some people believe that wild animal meat is safer than farm-raised meat.

    “It’s an important moment in time to try and change those cultural perceptions,” Rawson said. “There’s no regulation, no cold-chain storage for wild meat, and there are reservoirs of disease in wild animal populations. And the conservation community is moving quickly to take advantage of the outbreak to tell people that this is not a safe option, either for personal or public health.”

    Nguyen, of PanNature, said he expects to coordinate closely with MARD and other government agencies to formulate a ban. However, he said the agency had not yet reached out, and no further details of what the ban might include are available yet.

    The NGOs’ letter recommends identifying restaurants that illegally sell wild meat and shutting them down, closing markets where wildlife is illegally sold, requiring e-commerce platforms and social media to remove advertisements of illegal wildlife products and creating strong regulations on raising wildlife in captivity, among other measures.

    Following the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak of 2012, both of which were caused by coronaviruses linked to animals, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the dangers of trading in and consuming wildlife.

    “The current crisis is a direct result of demand for wildlife products, usually illegal, and we really need to address the supply and demand of wildlife meat if we’re going to avoid future catastrophe,” Rawson said. “We’ve had several, and these sorts of things are a matter of when, not if, and while they may be rare, the impacts are significant. It has to be a high-level policy issue, and it’s starting to become one, which is very encouraging.”

    Michael Tatarski is a Vietnam-based freelance journalist. You can find him on Twitter at @miketatarski. 

    Source: Mongabay

Vietnam to ban wildlife trade following conservationists’ demand

The government has paid heed to a plea by conservationists to ban wildlife trade and consumption.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to “quickly” draft a directive to ban these activities and submit it to the government no later than April 1.

The PM’s office had received a letter from PanNature, a non-profit wildlife organization, with a list of steps to stop illegal wildlife trade.

A moon bear is rescued from a farm by the Animals Asia foundation in Lang Son Province, northern Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

The letter, sent to the PM’s office earlier last month, quoted the heads of 14 conservation organizations as calling on the government to “identify and close markets and other locations where illegal wildlife is on sale” to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.

The signatories included the heads of PanNature, the World Wildlife Fund (WFF), Animals Asia Foundation, TRAFFIC, Save Vietnam Wildlife, and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Wild animals have been identified as the link allowing the novel coronavirus to jump to humans, similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012.

The letter acknowledged that in early February the Vietnam Administration of Forestry had sent a directive to provinces on controlling wildlife trade to prevent the spread of the coronavirus following a government directive on combating the epidemic.

But it said the government “should take more concrete action.”

Trinh Le Nguyen, director of PanNature, said the government’s actions would help show Vietnam is a “regional leader” in combating illegal wildlife trade and biodiversity conservation.

“We expect that with this response of the Prime Minister, enforcement agencies will demonstrate their commitment to eradicate illegal wildlife trade and consumption in our country completely.”

Since Friday 14 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 after 22 days without a new case.

Nguyen Hong Nhung, who returned to Hanoi from Europe, first tested positive. A 61-year-old man and nine foreign nationals who were on the same flight as Nhung, the personal chauffeur and an aunt of Nhung and a 27-year-old man returning to Vietnam from South Korea’s Daegu City were then found to be infected.

The global death toll has topped 3,800 in 104 countries and territories, mostly in mainland China (3,119), followed by Italy (366), Iran (194) and South Korea (51).

Source: VnExpress

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