Media Highlights

Thousands of wildlife farms in Viet Nam threaten biodiversity

In recent decades, along with the robust development of the economy, the demand for wildlife in Viet Nam, especially in big cities, has increased.

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Vietnam’s four top community-based tourism villages

Community-based tourism, with locals directly partaking in tourism products and service offerings, is slowly taking shape in Vietnam. According to the Vietnam Tourism Association (VITA), which listed the four villages, the initiative helps create jobs, reduce poverty, preserve cultural identity, and boost the country’s tourism landscape.

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Workshop talks ASEAN wildlife protection

The People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) held a workshop in Hanoi on November 6 to discuss promoting cooperation among social organizations in the fight against wildlife and timber smuggling in ASEAN.

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‘Treasury’ of biodiversity discovered in Kon Tum

Surveys about biodiversity by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) have uncovered a ‘treasury’ of rare and precious rare animals in Kon Long district in Kon Tum province.

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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

Vietnam calls halt to wildlife imports, illegal markets

Vietnam would halt importing and trading wild animals either dead or alive, according to a directive from Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued Thursday.

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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.

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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

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

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