Standing on top of a four-wheel-drive vehicle overlooking a Kenyan wildlife park wearing a hat – and walking shoes, Trang Nguyen stands next to many Vietnamese who love European beauty and the wonders of East Asia for their holidays and memorabilia.
But Trang is no ordinary traveler.
Founder and 31-year-old WildAct, a Vietnamese security agency, travels around the world as a naturalist.
A rapidly growing economy where more and more people are getting lucrative jobs in business and economics and the government sees government agencies and suspects, if it does not hate, he is well known.
“My parents didn’t help me when I told them what I wanted to do,” Trang told Al Jazeera, acknowledging that only a handful of Vietnamese could see what they were doing as a dream job.
But there is nothing that they can think of.
” I like to explore that way myself [have] I spend most of my time in the field, in remote areas and sometimes I put myself at risk. No parent would want their child to do this, “ he said.
Vietnam, which came out as hotspot for the multi-billion dollar global trade in illegal animals, serves as a gateway and a large consumer market. Vietnamese law enforcement agencies have been identified as smugglers and smugglers in many countries in Africa and Asia, from Malaysia to Mozambique, according to the UK Investigation Agency (EIA) in the UK.
The EIA said that in the period 17 to 2019, Vietnam participated in more than 600 criminal acts linked to illegal trade, killing at least 228 tigers, 610 rhinos, 15,779 elephants, and 65,510 rhinos – all of which are at high risk. The group draws its numbers on information available through groups.
When it comes to using tigers and tiger items, Vietnamese is second to a Chinese.
Many people believe that the so-called “bone marrow”, or cao in Vietnamese, which is derived from animals such as tigers and monkeys, can help to alleviate communicable diseases. Rhino horns, meanwhile, is a sign of weight gain while some believe that horns can cure cancer.
Trang is also a patient of colon cancer, and was impressed by the comments from her doctor that such beliefs are dangerous because of the need for immediate treatment of many cancers.
It was a “powerful message”, he told the World Wildlife Fund in an interview this year, as well as a way to address the need for rhino horn.
Hate and reject
Increasing the stress of Zoonotic disease after COVID-19, who believe in jumping from animal to human, has helped reopen the issue of the sale of wildlife on a global scale.
Last year, Vietnam ordered the ban on already banned wildlife, including organs and other items. While environmentalists say they are supporting the law, they have also warned that there is still a lot of work to be done, including the implementation of the law.
Trang, who first became involved in environmental issues as a teenager and earned his PhD in environmental management in the UK two years ago, says selling wildlife is not easy because it is a difficult topic for both Vietnamese and ordinary citizens.
In a number of community-based forums, Trang said people have taken what Vietnam has done as a wild and violent market.
“I would not dare to call myself an expert, but I have always researched the subject. There is no doubt that wildlife exists in Vietnam, ”he said. “There are Vietnamese people overseas, especially in Africa, who are involved in illegal and cross-border trade and crossbreeding wildlife. This affects the people of Vietnam and the image of the country. ”
It is a history that has also cast doubt on Trang’s intentions, he said.
In Africa, he is said to have encountered animosity – some people think he has to deal with wildlife protection because many Asians have taken action to smuggle wildlife into the country.
In Vietnam itself, protecting wildlife is also a challenge. Some species are very dangerous, according to IUCN Red List of Dangerous Species, and Vietnamese chickens and Pond Turtle. Saola, an antelope-like animal, has also been affected by the proliferation of poaching to provide illegal trade in wildlife, according to the WWF.
Vietnam is one of the worst-hit countries in Asia (including India, and other Southeast Asian countries) besides Myanmar, according to animal protection laws and regulations, according to the World Animal Protection’s 2020 index.
According to Trang, the “most destructive ideas” related to conservation work are that government officials and environmental police are doing nothing to end wildlife abuse. In his experience, Trang said he has met with many supervisors and police officers who are committed to solving the problem and are willing to work with non-governmental organizations like him.
However, it is said that most Vietnamese police officers do not know much about investigating and dealing with wildlife cases compared to other countries due to lack of education and training. This is on top of the problem of fraud.
“Bribery plays a key role in this process, as in many cases, and it is important to address this issue in the fight against illegal wildlife trade,” he said, without giving an example.
“They have a lot of experience in researching other things, but [investigating] wildlife lawsuits and wildlife cases have recently taken place in Vietnam. This is what we have to accept and support, ”he said.
WildAct has been conducting community-based and field-based training programs where they can exchange ideas, prepare and implement conservation activities, such as removing animal traps and rescuing established animals, in several Vietnamese states.
The organization is working with Animal Doctors International, a veterinary hospital and veterinarian with offices in Vietnam and Cambodia, to provide training to veterinarians and conservation groups at WildAct with first aid training for injured animals and for members. who are on a journey. Although often overlooked, these are essential skills in raising wildlife after they are rescued, as well as the health of caretakers and community members, according to Trang.
“The right approach should be to motivate as many people as possible,” he said.
Trang has tried to empower women and make WildAct stronger in equality between men and women.
According to Mark Spicer, a former program manager who worked at WildAct for two years until the end of 2020, Trang’s announcement is not a lip service.
“It’s an important part of where WildAct came from, where Trang was the founder and facilitator, and his experience, as well as the experiences of Vietnamese and foreign security partners have strengthened this,” said Spicer, who said he was the only male employee at the time of leaving the agency. .
Spicer, who hails from the UK and has a history of conservation and the environment, says the work he did at WildAct was “different from anything I’ve ever done”.
“That said, there is a lot going on in conservation in Vietnam and for everyone involved it is a challenge, but there are big organizations and activists who are trying to do that,” he said.
When establishing WildAct in 2015, Trang reunited with well-known environmental organizations in the early years of the NGO, working as a professional wildlife consultant in Cambodia at Fauna and Flora International in the UK, and a Mozambican sponsor in the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society. In 2018, he was awarded the prestigious future award for Nature for its work in combating the illegal trade in wildlife.
Hong Hoang, founder and executive director of CHANGE, Vietnam’s NGO NGO that works to address the country’s environmental problems, says people like Trang are rare in Vietnam.
He first met Trang when the latter, who was a teenager, volunteered for a program run by WWF, a former Hong Kong employee. The two are still connected and sometimes go to a small military base in Vietnam.
In CHANGE’s research, Hong also relies on veterinarians’ expertise in animal studies to help him identify the captured animal he encounters on social media or news media.
Hong, a pioneer and well-known figure in climate management for more than two decades, says there has been a “snowfall” and young people have a greater interest in environmental issues.
The government is also aware of more than ever before, which makes it less risky for people to express their concerns in a country where violence is not allowed.
“I have to admit that the government has made great strides in caring for the environment,” he said, adding that there was pressure from foreign countries and social media as consumers expressed their awareness of other issues such as air pollution, health and livelihoods.
However, Hong believes there is still a long way to go.
“I think that’s not enough to get a strong team out of 98 million people,” he said. “I hope there will be more people like Trang in Vietnam and there will be more opportunities for young people when it comes to caring for wildlife.”
In August, police in the north-central region of Nghe An rescued 17 adult tigers from a closed and dirty room that was part of an illegal breeding operation. A few days earlier, in the same province, two men were arrested after seven live baby monkeys were found in their car.
Trang said the same week, Kenyan scientists developed embryos to save the northern hemisphere.
“This is good news, but in a good country where there would be no killing of animals – this species would not need human help to survive,” he said.
“In the same way the tigers should not be confined in cages, but the seizure brought us hope, as it shows the co-operation between government officials and non-governmental organizations to address the problem.”