Lying at the heart of the biologically rich Annamites mountain range, Vietnam’s Pu Mat National Park is a crucial wildlife haven in its own right. Its forests harbour a rich diversity of rare, obscure, endemic and globally endangered species, including northern white-cheeked gibbon, red-shanked douc langur, Sunda pangolin, Annamite striped rabbit, the elusive and mysterious saola and one of the few viable Asian elephant populations left in the country.
Pu Mat National Park is a key biodiversity area and a stronghold for some of Asia’s most threatened species. Credit: Steph Baker/Fauna & Flora
Fauna & Flora works closely with community rangers in the park to support their anti-poaching activities, including law enforcement and snare removal, and engage with communities living in and around the park to promote sustainable livelihood initiatives.
Loc Van Hung is a 61-year-old forest ranger who has been working in Pu Mat National Park for 25 years. He grew up in this region of Vietnam and his deep affection for the forest and mountains has led him to dedicate his life to protecting them for future generations.
What do you do?
As forest rangers, we’re here to manage and protect the forest. We patrol deep into the forest, disarming traps and looking for signs of forest violation. This includes logging, exploitation of forest resources and illegal poaching and trapping of forest animals. We also speak to nearby villages about forest protection every month. We never forget to tell the people to ‘protect the forest’. The people in the village support this.
Loc Van Hung (left) at work in Pu Mat National Park. Credit: Le Duc/Fauna & Flora
What is the hardest part of your job?
Disarming snares is the toughest task. It’s challenging because poachers often lay snares in the most treacherous and hidden areas. They operate in small crevices, tiny streams and over hills and mountains where it’s tough to reach. It can be very hard to track down individual snares and traps because they are camouflaged.
What time do you wake up in the morning?
When I’m at the ranger station I usually wake up between 5-5:30am. I go for a morning jog, brush my teeth and wash myself. My schedule is pretty much the same every day.
Do you have to leave earlier on days you go on forest patrols?
Usually, we pack up and leave at 7.30 or 8am, after our breakfast. We’re on patrol for 7-10 days and we take all our equipment with us. This includes blankets, hammocks, raincoats, shoes, rice, pots and tools for cooking in the forest. It’s often 16-20kg that we carry on our shoulders. It’s hard work patrolling the forest and we go regardless of the weather.
Pots and pans at Pu Mat ranger station. Credit: Le Duc/Fauna & Flora
How do you decide where to patrol?
Our itinerary has already been determined on a GPS and map. There are coordinates for where to go. Since we know the forest well, we guess how far we are to places with drinking water and that is where we choose to stop for the night. This means we can wash and cook, otherwise there won’t be any water to drink or use.
What do you do when you have finished patrolling for the day?
Once we’ve arrived at our stopping point, we’ll assign someone to fetch water. Someone else will set up the camping ground and someone else will get the food ready or forage nearby. All that preparation and we will have something to eat when we’re done in the evening. We can’t set up tents in the forest, but we hang up nylon hammocks to sleep in, even when it rains. We camp there and rest. It’s hard work.
Days on patrol can be long and arduous – but these rangers are dedicated to saving this biodiversity haven. Credit: Le Duc/Fauna & Flora
What time do you go to sleep?
Sleep is impossible. You can never sleep early in the forest. Because, frankly, it’s too cold in the winter and we have to pick spots away from danger such as falling trees. We mostly just stay up to be honest.
What would happen if the forest wasn’t protected?
In my opinion, if the forest isn’t protected disasters such as floods and droughts will happen everywhere. Nature’s wake-up calls. It will be incredibly dangerous. There will be barren hills and more frequent flooding. And the impact on air pollution will be severe. Upstream water sources will run dry and people’s lives, and livelihoods, will be impacted.
The future of Pu Mat National Park and the wider Annamites region, along with the people and wildlife that depend on it for survival, is in the hands of committed individuals like Hung and his colleagues. Their dedication, and gruelling schedule, are helping to ensure that Vietnam’s forests remain intact and rich in wildlife.