The ecological 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 dioxin-soaked wastelands.
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.
The 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.
The many 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.
The long 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.
Please 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 Hawksbill Turtle.
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