disaster and the slow road to recovery
Apart from the
appalling human carnage, saturation bombing, napalm and chemical
deforestation had a devastating effect on Vietnam’s forests,
mangrove areas, wetlands and wildlife. Around two million
hectares of forest and half the total area of mangroves were
destroyed, and large areas of the country were reduced to
Since the war,
the loss of forest cover continued as the population grew
and poverty increased. In recent years, an extensive programme
of re-forestation and mangrove planting has taken place, and
the precipitous decline of natural habitats has been halted.
The government is committed to restoring Vietnam’s forest
cover to its pre-war level.
hidden treasures of Vietnam’s wildlife
Warfare, loss of habitat, pollution and economic necessity
resulting from acute poverty has contributed to a serious
loss of species of plants and wildlife. Nevertheless, Vietnam
is still high in the list of countries with extensive bio-diversity:
12,000 plant species and 7,000 species of animals are already
recorded, including many rare and endangered ‘Red Book’ species.
The process of
cataloguing the flora and fauna of Vietnam is in its infancy,
and large areas are yet to be explored. New species, some
previously unknown, are being added regularly. A new genus
of wild ox, one of only four previously unknown large land
mammals discovered during the 20th century and the first for
fifty years, as well as two new species of muntjac have been
found in the Vu Quang Nature Reserve in Central Vietnam.
Vietnam is home
to some of the most endangered species in the world: the Java
rhinoceros, the Delacourt and Cat Ba Langurs,
the Asian elephant, the sun bear, the tiger and the clouded
leopard are some of the better-known rare mammals.
challenges to Vietnam’s natural environment
Despite considerable government efforts and support from international
environmental organisations, the decline of endemic species
continues. Poverty is one of the main causes. For indigent
villagers in remote areas, the rewards for poaching and illegal
logging far outweigh the risk of being caught. Population
pressure is another. As the narrow coastal areas become increasingly
crowded, the government is encouraging settlements in rural
areas. Until recently, pollution has been less of a problem
but, as Vietnam industrialises and intensifies its agriculture,
levels of pesticides, chemicals and waste products are climbing.
road to recovery
In recent years, government concern about Vietnam’s natural
environment has risen sharply. Over a hundred protected forest
areas have been established, including eleven National Parks.
Levels of protection vary from limits upon development to
complete prohibition of all environmentally damaging activities.
In addition, UNESCO has recognised two ‘biosphere areas’,
and all five of Vietnam’s World Heritage Areas have environmental
protection stipulations in their official mandate, particularly
Ha Long Bay and Phong Nha.
At present, the
authorities are working to create marine reserves, particularly
in areas where urban run-off is being carried into sensitive
coastal zones. The Red River Delta is particularly at risk
– industrial waste from the rapidly-expanding northern Economic
Zone is combining with pesticides washed downriver into Ha
Long Bay. Fortunately, substantial investment in sewage and
waste treatment plants funded from foreign aid is helping
to bring pollution under control on some areas.
help Vietnam's environment to recover
Although Vietnam is very rich in its bio-diversity, visitors
to the country will be disappointed if they are looking for
frequent sightings or rare species and ‘safari park’ encounters
with animals. The wild life is there, but it has learned to
stay well out of sight. The best contribution that tourists
can make to help our country to hold on to its rare plants
and creatures is to stay away from them, and encourage others
to do the same!
We strongly support
the government's conservation efforts and those of the international
environmental organisations that are active in Vietnam. If,
like us, you want to do something practical to assist in saving
some of our highly endangered species, please contact us.
We will be very pleased to put you in touch with one of the
groups that are struggling to save some of the three hundred
or more species that are in urgent need of protection or on
the brink of extinction, such as the Cat Ba Langur and the