Some of this carnage supplies national appetites for Eastern traditional medicine in Vietnam and neighboring China. Examples from a lengthy catalog of purported remedies include: tiger penises for impotence, bear bile for cancer, rhino horn for a hangover, loris bile to ease the serious airway infections that arise from Vietnam’s air pollution.
Even more of the motivation, surveys have found, “is to supply the rampant demand for wildlife meat in urban restaurants, which is very much a status issue,” said Barney Long, director of species conservation for the nonprofit group Global Wildlife Conservation.
“This is not bush meat where poor people are hunting for food,” he said. “It’s a status symbol to take your business or government colleagues out for a wildlife meal. And honestly it’s on a scale that is mind boggling. We’re talking not about one or two species, but whole communities of wildlife disappearing.”
After further scouting, my wife and I decided to go anyway, arranging to fly into Hanoi, in the north, and move quickly to Vietnam’s green outback. Then we would head south to Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, for a circuit of the parks and natural areas there.
Over the course of our two-week trip, we found that some exquisite wild species hold out, though in threatened circumstances. And we were fortunate, if half-willing, witnesses to the struggle by native Vietnamese, and their international conservation allies, to halt what amounts to animal genocide.
Cuc Phuong, the nation’s first national park, is a couple of hours south of Hanoi. It was created in 1962 by Ho Chi Minh, who prophesied that “the current destruction of our forests will lead to serious effects on climate, productivity and life. The forest is gold. If we know how to conserve and manage it well, it will be very valuable.”