Critically important illegal wildlife trade initiative launched to save endangered Indochinese fauna

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has developed a project focusing on the illegal cross- border wildlife trade in Central Vietnam and hopes to be granted permission to implement the programme in July for Quang Binh and in August for Ha Tinh Province, both in Vietnam.

The new programme will protect wildlife found in Nakai Nam Theun National Protected Area (NPA), the most significant block of protected area in the Annamites, a mountain range straddling Lao PDR and Vietnam. The initiative intends to lay the foundations for a long-term commitment in central Lao PDR, aiming to reduce illegal wildlife trade and protect threatened species in Central Vietnam and in the region through transboundary cooperation.

John Parr, FFI’s Vietnam Country Director, worked across the international border in Nakai Nam Theun NPA between 2008 and early 2010, and recognised there was little focus on the intensive poaching and illegal transboundary wildlife trade, and the populations were suffering. He said, “the protected area is one of the most important sites for biodiversity conservation in Indochina, and Southeast Asia. The initiative is full of promise, but one that is being severely undermined by such intensive pressures.”

The Nakai Nam Theun NPA represents Lao PDR’s largest and most diverse natural forest area. Up to 117 mammal species are known from the national protected area and parts of the adjacent Nakai Plateau. Three of the last five large mammals to be discovered or re-discovered worldwide occur in the Nakai Nam Theun NPA, including the Critically Endangered Saola.

There are a number of threats to the site and its local fauna, including illegal snaring of wildlife and illegal selective logging. Unsustainable harvesting of non-timber forest products and shifting agriculture are having substantial impact, but prolific illegal wildlife trade is the main threat.

Nakai Nam Theun NPA’s 161 km border with Vietnam provides two international border gates and numerous illegal border crossings for wildlife trafficking. Once across the border, it is thought the wildlife moves through a network of wholesale wildlife traders and transporters for consumption within Vietnamese urban towns and cities or is exported to China.

The development and implementation of the illegal wildlife trade programme is expected to improve site-based protection of species of conservation concern located in Nakai Nam Theun NPA; build capacity of law enforcement personnel in Quang Binh and Ha Tinh provinces in Vietnam; strengthen illegal wildlife trade suppression in both provinces; and build transboundary cooperation between Laos and Vietnamese government officials. The Wildlife Conservation Society and Vietnamese NGO PanNature are key partners in this initial multi-faceted intervention.

The programme has several outcome objectives already pin-pointed: the identification of main transboundary entry points into Nakai Nam Theun NPA, placement of enforcement ranger stations and patrol routes; improved zoning of the NPA; targeted conservation and improved protection of priority species of conservation concern located in Nakai Nam Theun NPA and finally to strengthen support for on-going conservation of the NPA.

The project will also assess the social and economic situation and land use/ tenure status of the Vietnamese villages in the border areas of Nakai, with consideration for understanding their local livelihoods.

Illegal wildlife trade is expected to be reduced through building capacity within Quang Binh and Ha Tinh Provinces, tackling transboundary illegal wildlife trade and trafficking and building provincial links to the National Wildlife Suppression Unit.