Archived News: Nature Reserves
& Natural Resources
15.12.11 In June of 2009 I encountered a large and unusual gecko species living in Thap Po Dam, a small Cham temple complex in eastern Binh Thuan province. I documented the species in my blog and named it Bray's Champa Gecko or Gekko champai (also see another photo here). The find was also mentioned later in Insight Guide Step by Step Vietnam 2011.
This 'new' species is similar to Gekko grossmanni, though much more brown in color with distinctive rusty-orange colored eyes. The size is a little smaller than the giant powder-blue Tokay Geckos common around the province. The body is covered in dark brown and light grey spots. There are 6-9 groupings of white and brown spots along the side of the spine from the nape to the caudal peduncle, forming lines encircling the torso.
I was surprised to hear that Ngo Van Tri, Office Technology and Environmental Management, Institute of Tropical Biology (Institute of Science and Technology of Vietnam) and Dr. Tony Gamble, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, University of Minnesota, also published a 'discovery' of the same species in May of 2011. They refer to the news species as Ca Na Stone Gecko - Gekko canaensis, obviously unaware of my previous finding. My only response is, better luck next time gents!
From Resort Capital to Mining Capital
The Future of Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan
& Ba Ria-Vung Tau
10.07.11 On 22 June this year, the Department of Geology and Minerals of Vietnam announced it was seeking government approval for a 100-square-kilometer complex to tap titanium ore in Binh Thuan Province.
Tran Van Mien, head of the department's Geology Office, told the Saigon Times that the ministry had identified a titanium mine with estimated reserves of 540 million tonnes, encompassing the provinces of Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan and Ba Ria-Vung Tau (these provinces include the tourism destinations of Vung Tau, Ho Tram, Binh Chau, La Gi, Khe Ga, Phan Thiet, Mui Ne, Ca Na and Phan Rang).
"The department has suggested building the complex to extract and process up to 150 million tonnes of titanium ore," said Mien. "The remaining 300 million tonnes should be kept as a national reserve resource for coming generations."
"If government approval is forthcoming, this will become the largest titanium complex in the country," he said.
Indeed, this won't just be the largest titanium mining complex in Vietnam—it will be one of the largest titanium mining operations in the world.
It appears the Department of Geology and Minerals will get their wish. Vietnam's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) announced this past Thursday that the Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai had just approved their plan in principal.
Click here to read the rest of the story.
17.07.11 We received this letter from a vistor to Mui ne named Bruce Rogerson, from Australia. After a week of annual red tides across the province, likely brought on by sewage, fertilizers and other waste products washed into the bay during rainy season, we find ourselves agreeing wholeheartedly with Mr. Rogerson.
Hi there, I would like to discuss the problem of waste pollution currently blighting the shores and surf of Mui Ne. I saw on 2 occasions, local people (fisherman & others) throwing plastic bags with contents, into the surf from the beach. Running along the beach, I encountered myriads of plastic bags and other foreign objects that do not belong on the beach. I also saw what I think is a hotel proprietor, burying organic material into the sand. This type of practice will turn the sand into soil and there will no longer be nice light coloured sandy beaches if this is done on frequent occasions. Swimming in the surf is a very hazardous affair at Mui Ne, with plastic bags brushing against you. In one swim I managed to pull out 2 handfuls of plastic bags. If this continues, I am afraid all the resort building and projects will be in vain, since all this hinges entirely on having a good quality swimming venue to begin with. I have been to 55 countries & have never experienced pollution on such a scale as this. To continue in this manner, there will soon be no beach available, no tourists & therefore the projects will be in vain. Mui Ne will eventually crumble into oblivion if left to continue on this course of destruction. This message is totally out of concern for the population of Mui Ne itself. Please police the beaches, make some drastic law enforcements & educational programs before it is too late. I shall be reccommending against visiting Mui Ne to my own associates, from my own personal experience there recently.
Greetings from the Mekong,
I am currently part of the support team travelling with a very tired but still energetic Rob Kidnie and just wanted to update you on his progress and a link to the website containing a daily blog and daily photo's and video.
We are currently 20kms outside of Can Tho which is about 90kms into the 230km paddle and there have been some amazing and captivating moments. The Mekong people seem stunned by the banana coloured board and its coxwain but break out in an ear to ear grin as soon as Rob waves his paddle at them and some have even been tempted, with a little help from Rob to have a go themselves.
Despite the friendly aura of the locals and the magnificent scenery it is evident nearly everywhere that the problem of plastic pollution in the Mekong river is something that needs to be highlighted as a matter of urgency and we are well aware that this paddle will only just scrape the surface of a much larger task that needs to be addressed at a grass roots level for anything to change.
There is also a short video of Robs first few days paddling on the river that will be followed by a longer short documentary once he has completed the journey, the link to this is:
Click here for more photos.
29.04.11 This week on 24 April, a 38 year-old male elephant, named Beckham, was killed in the Tuyen Lam Lake Tourism Area in Dalat.
The elephant had been hacked to death with an axe. The perpetrator severed Beckham's tendons and arteries on his hind legs, causing the elephant to bleed to death in what was likely an excruciating ordeal.
Elephant hair rings, sold in Vietnam's Central Highlands
The would-be poachers did not have time to remove his valuable ivory, tail hair (often sold in Vietnam to make jewellery) or other body parts.
Last year the elephant was similarly attacked twice and injured seriously, but managed to survive.
"We had to hire a veterinary doctor to take care of him for weeks. It had just recovered four months before it was killed," said Phan Thi Hoa, owner of the Nam Qua Ecological Tourism Company, which owns the elephant.
According to Dalat FPD, Hoa bought the elephant legally from a man (whom Hoa says was an ethnic minority) living in Dak Lake province, about 7 years ago.
Months before, in August 2010, other elephants in Da Lat's tourist sites were also attacked to take tail hairs.
Click HERE to read about city-wide raids today in Dalat, on restaurants and shops illegally selling wildlife.
23.03.11 To people passionate about clean oceans, rivers and beaches,
My name is Robert Kidnie, a 35 year old from Sydney, Australia. I am a passionate life-long surfer/kitesurfer/paddleboarder who has spent the last eight years traveling the world chasing wind and waves. I have spent the majority of my time in Asia, with the last five years predominantly in Vietnam. In my travels I am often sickened by the amount of rubbish that I see in the oceans, waterways and on the beaches. I have thought long and hard about what I could do to help this situation.
So, I have come-up with the idea of "stand-up paddling" from Cambodia through Vietnam to the South China Sea via the Mekong River; the Mekong being the perfect example of a polluted waterway!
Check this link to more info on Stand-up paddling.
The paddle down the Mekong River is a challenge that I would relish in itself, but I see this as a golden opportunity to raise awareness for the need for cleaner oceans, waterways and beaches.
So I'm trying to get in contact with as many like-minded people as I can to help and support with the charity side of things. I have got the paddling logistics under control and am willing to finance this side of things myself. But extra funding could create much more significant exposure and a professional image. What I would mainly like help with is finding the right charity/organisation that can benefit from this epic (first in the world) journey.
These are some of things that I could incorporate in the journey to create awareness about this cause:
- Exposure through Print Media, Internet, TV, Radio, Youtube, etc.
- Local environmental education, though support vessel signage and face to face communication (I have already organised some Vietnamese support and translators).
- Free giveaways such as hats, t-shirts brochures, etc.
- The list goes on...
I plan on the doing the trip in early May before the June wet-season, so I need to get things going ASAP. Please feel free to contact me anytime at email@example.com or +84 1267 194 923. More information is also available at www.kite-n-surf.com.
I relish your support and feedback.
Thanking you in advance,
The terrestrial Elongated Tortouise is locally rare because individuals, including this one, are poached from the wild, to be served in local restaurants.
28.07.10 I was on the way to Nui Ong National Park in Northwest Binh Thuan Province. There’s very little infrastructure at the park’s main entrance—just some signs on trees displaying Latin names, and a designated parking area. (See the bottom of this page for a report on a previous visit to the park, or visit our blog for a photo essay.)
This time however, I was heading to an unofficial back entrance, closer to Phan Thiet. There the illegal loggers plough trails through the national park, removing bamboo, large trees and more wildlife.
I was utterly disappointed when I arrived, finding that since my previous visit one year ago, the forests of the national park had been dramatically thinned. What was once a dark and dense forest, thick with plant life and enormous towering trees, was now sparse with empty meadows and glens, patches of cropland, and streams of sunlight falling to the forest floor in every direction.
During my visit last year, the forest twittered, rustled, hummed and sang with the sounds of innumerable wild bird life. Torrents of butterflies pounded down the paths. Snakes, lizards and frogs hopped, ran and climbed through both the underbrush and canopy above. Now what was left of the forest was quiet and motionless, save for a vestige of butterflies. The loggers had drastically degraded the plant life, but poachers had taken care of the animals.
Civet cats, like this one stolen from the national park and pictured here, are sources of the infamous SARS viral epidemic that panicked the world in 2004.
For the fate of Nui Ong’s animals, I must back up and recount what I encountered on the way to Nui Ong, halfway from Phan Thiet. From highway 1A there has been a sign visible for several years, advertising wild boar meat sold at a farm called “Ba Bau”. This time, the sign had been changed to more brazenly advertise a wide variety of animals, including porcupine, tortoises, civet and monitor lizard. I turned north from the highway, deciding to inspect the facility.
Bau Bao is only one of many friendly wildlife "farms" (or rather distribution centers), but certainly one of the most ballsy, posting signs right on the highway.
The place wasn’t difficult to find—there were signs directing where to turn. This place obviously wasn’t a secret. The friendly owner proudly welcomed me in and showed off the stock of animals, kept in damp, cement barracks in the back of the property, overgrown with vines from the outside. There were indeed a few porcupines, civet cats (known potential carriers of SARS) a dozen tortoises, almost twice as many bamboo rats, and even more monitory lizards.
“Did you breed these animals?” I asked.
“Oh no, none of them,” dismissed the owner, “except for the wild pigs.” She motioned behind us. There were half-a-dozen stalls of beautifully brown and white speckled piglets. “All the other animals I buy from people who catch them in the forests near the mountains north of here (Nui Ong).”
No longer at home in the forests of Nui Ong National Park, this monitor lizard has no need for venom--the toxic cocktail of bacteria in it's mouth is enough to kill most threats or prey. Doesn't he sound delicious?
“But its OK” she quickly added. “The government knows what we are doing and they don’t care. We bought a license from them for a wild animal farm. After we buy that, we can do anything we like. They don’t care.”
I was horrified, sickened, but not surprised. In theory, she was wrong, what she was doing was illegal—not the intention of the law… in theory. In practice however, this seems to be exactly what is happening all over Vietnam. Small businesses buy these wild animal “farming” licenses then procure most or all of their stock from national parks—or may even be smuggling poached wildlife from surrounding countries.
Bamboo Rats, including this one which was stolen from the wild and headed for a dinner table in Mui Ne or Phan Thiet, are natural hosts for the disease-causing mold, Penicillium marneffei, which is endemic in all species in South-east Asia. Penicilliosis due to this mold is the third most common opportunistic infection in HIV-positive individuals.
Vietnam’s wild animal farming program isn’t limited to small mammals and reptiles however. It also includes large threatened or endangered species such as tigers, African Rhinos (see our blog for more on the Rhino problem) and bears, all with the intent of harvesting their body parts for traditional “medicine” to be sold here in Vietnam or in neighboring China.
“Who are your customers?” I asked the owner.
“Big restaurants and resorts in Mui Ne and Phan Thiet. They pay extra money so we can make a paper for them to make it look legal.”
Headed for a dinner table near you, these illegally aquired Malayan Porcupines are a common cause of tape worms and other diseases in Vietnam's wealthy and powerful.
In other words, restaurants, resorts offer exotic animals on their menu—porcupine, monitor lizard, turtle, tortoise, snake, civet, bamboo rat or something worse—assuring their customers that the wild animals on the menu are legally farm-raised—they might even show them the paperwork—but in fact, the meat on the dinner plate all came from the nearest national park.
There’s another dirty little secret that these restaurant owners haven’t told their customers however. The wild animals that they are eating—their meat is contaminated by parasites—and cooking them (particularly the sloppy and unsanitary methods used by these restaurants) doesn’t kill them all. Tape worms, flukes, heart worms, lung worms, bacteria and viruses—and they are all being passed on to the consumer. Even worse--though a customer may not order dishes made with these animals--the very presence of the animal or its flesh in the same restaurant may be introducing contaminants that could still make customers seriously ill. For this reason it is important not to eat at any restaurant serving wild animals.
Phan Thiet Post Office
A Yellow-cheeked Gibbon, one of several primates kept at the Phan Thiet Post office for more than 5 years.
Mysteriously Divests itself of Illegal Wildlife
06.10.08 The security office beside the provincial post office located in Phan Thiet on Nguyen Tat Thanh Street is reporting that all their wild animals (which have been kept on display at the post office for more than 5 years) have all “flown away” or “run back to the mountains.” Animals included a Yellow-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus gabriellae), macaque and a variety of wild pheasants and jungle fowl—many found in the Vietnam Red Book of threatened, endangered or vulerable wildlife.
A lonely Macaque kept at the Phan Thiet Post Office.
While it is good to know that the Binh Thuan government wishes to set a better example for local citizens by following national laws concerning wildlife, questions remain concerning how the animals were acquired originally--and what their present fate actually is.
Wild Pheasants kept at the Phan Thiet Post Office.
The collection of endangered animals sat in plain view of the provincial police station on Ton Duc Thang Street—much like the wildlife restaurant across the Street, Trang Gold, still does. The restaurant lists on its menu: wild deer, porcupine, crocodile, python, bamboo rat, civet, mouse-deer, turtle, and cobra, among other creatures. Of course Trang Gold is not alone—2 other restaurants in the same alley (walking distance from the police station) offer similar menus—and well-known restaurants at Doi Duong Beach also offer civet, porcupine and wild deer—and on occasion, sea turtle.
A sign for Trang Gold Wildlife Restaurant, as seen from the provincial Police Office
Fortunately some elements of law enforcement are paying attention. The Police recently arrested the director and two other staff of the Ta Cu Mountain Nature Reserve for illegally leasing land in the park and pocketing the money. A forth staff member is part of a nation-wide man-hunt. However, rumors persist, although unproven, that some government officials have used local nature reserves for private hunting safaris, and reserve staff in the province (much like other provinces) poach animals to sell to local restaurants.
Bear Claws for sale in Da Lat, Summer 2008
Vietnam has an abysmal environmental record. Bear claws are opening for sale in souvenir shops in the Da Lat markets, while lacquered sea turtle carcasses are openly for sale in Saigon, Vung Tau, Nha Trang, Hanoi and elsewhere. The renowned reefs in Nha Trang are on the decline, according to local dive operators, because officials charged with monitoring the reefs are instead allowing fishermen to drop dynamite and cyanide on the reefs. If Vietnam does not quickly take steps to aggressively address its wildlife issues, there may be no wildlife left for future generations to see. (Pictured left: lacquered sea turtles for sale in Vung Tau, Summer 2008).
Mui Ne Resort Manager Ransoms Sea Turtle
29.08.06 Le Ngoc Them, owner of Hoang Ngoc Resort in Mui Ne, yesterday released a sea turtle into the sea from the beach. He purchased the turtle from a local fisherman for 2,000,000 VND (about $135 US) in order to prevent it's sale to a restaurant. Despite being illegal, sea turtles are poached and served openly at seafood restaurants throughout the country. The turtle spent a week recuperating before it was released. We applaud the efforts and good intentions of Mr. Le Ngoc Them and hope that his excellent example will be recognized by his peers and local residents.
Two Injured in Land Dispute
10.07.06 Two men, age 31 and 24, were shot in the leg while reportedly attacking forest wardens who were in the process of confiscating 2 ha of forest they said was illegally appropriated, in La Gi town, on Friday. The altercation reportedly began after the two, and about 40 others, used knives and sticks to attack the rangers.
La Gi lies on the coast, Southwest of Mui Ne, adjacent to the Ta Kou Mountain Nature Reserve. It is unclear however, if the land in question is connected with the reserve.
05.02.06 Rolling Dunes, rocky mountains, vast canyons and minimal rainfall... is this what first comes to mind when you think of Vietnam? If not, then may be it's time to visit Mui Ne. Spend a holiday at the driest place in SE Asia and the place with the best weather in Vietnam. Welcome to the Binh Thuan Desert. Click here to read more.
30.11.05 Takou Mountain is a site not to be missed, but most people don't realise it is also a nature reserve. It is about 1 hour away from Mui Ne Beach and offers something completely different. Hike up the mountain for free or take the gondola through a beautiful tropical rainforest full of birds and exotic wildlife to the pagoda at the top of the peak. Visit the largest reclining Buddha in Vietnam. Click here to read more about the reserve.
10.05 Wildlife, wildlife, wildlife... that is what Kalon-Song Mao Nature Reserve is all about. In the north of Binh Thuan province, this forest area is home to some of the most amazing animals in the world.
The Nature Reserves of Binh Thuan Province
10.05 So you though Mui Ne was just a spectacular beach with world-class resorts and great kiteboarding? Then it's time for you to make another visit. In this first of a series of articles, we will blow the lid off your preconceptions and show you some of the best kept secrets of Binh Thuan province. Our first feature is Nui Ong Nature Preserve. Hidden away in the north of Binh Thuan, this mountain-top nature preserve hides monkeys and gibbons and stories of wild elephants. -READ MORE-