With support from the Wellington Zoo Conservation Fund, Amanda Tiffin is currently in Vietnam on a conservation adventure working with our partner Fauna & Flora International.
After a five and a half hour car ride from Cuc Phuong National Park, we found ourselves in a quiet, tranquil environment, free of people, cars, and noise. All we could hear was the sound of birds and smell the fresh air!
I am now in Pu Mat National Park and this area is stunning! Pu Mat National Park straddles the border of Laos and Vietnam for about 61km and has a total footprint of 94,000 ha. It is 'the jewel in the crown' for Vietnam and a real biodiversity hotspot. It contains about 2,494 flora species, and about 1,650 fauna species - including 132 mammal species, 361 birds species, 39 reptile species, 33 amphibians species, 83 fish species and over 1000 invertebrate species. The reason we are able to come to this beautiful protected area is through our Partnership with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) who are working with the National Park staff to ensure protection of the forest and all its inhabitants.
Wellington Zoo along with Perth Zoo and Taronga Zoo have partnered with FFI to help preserve this vast habitat for the Northern White Cheeked Gibbon, a species we all have at our Zoos as ambassadors for conservation of their wild counterparts.
My colleagues from Perth Zoo and I were lucky enough to meet with the Director of Pu Mat National Park, FFI, and other various park Directors to talk about how the forest protection is going. It was great to hear about the successes that they've had in the forest protection, scientific research, and botanic garden development - despite some of the challenges they face. As with most forest habitats, illegal logging, snare trapping of animals, hunting, and forest fires are just some of the challenges they are trying to overcome. The protection of this habitat is incredibly important for the survival of many species of endemic animals.
There’s about 100 staff working in the National Park, and 86 Rangers working across the 11 Ranger Stations. With the help from partners’ funding, the Community Conservation Teams (CCT) are being trained in SMART technology (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) to help monitor threats within the forest and biodiversity during patrols. The CCT is composed of local community members who are trained to engage in enforcement activities.
While we were in the National Park, FFI staff conducted SMART training with two CCT teams. It is the first stage of their SMART training and it was beneficial to see how funding from the Wellington Zoo Conservation Fund and our ZAA partners has developed the project.
Situated at the entrance of the National Park there is a small rescue centre. It was really great to spend a few days working with their staff and being able to share ideas of natural enrichment or play items to provide for the animals. Sharing ideas for best practice animal care and husbandry is a really rewarding part of our jobs, and in turn seeing the resourceful nature of the rescue centre team with bamboo toys, beds, enrichment feeders and the like was great.
Next we drove 2 hours in to the National Park to stay at one of the Ranger Stations. We got up at 4am and drove on scooters to a lookout point about 3km from the Laos border where we were surrounded by native forest, and here we listened for the sound of the Gibbon song… and we heard it! We listened to two groups of wild Northern White Cheeked Gibbons singing their morning song which establishes their territory and reinforces the bond of the male and female pairs. For about 15 minutes each we listened to the call of the groups and their offspring. While we could not see the animals in the dense forest, it was an incredibly moving experience to hear these calls.
If hearing the Gibbons wasn’t special enough, Minh one of the team members from FFI saw a Pangolin crossing the path on the way to the Gibbons that morning. Pangolins are nocturnal and so hard to see, not to mention incredibly endangered.
During our time at the Ranger Station we were able to talk (via translator) to the Rangers about their experiences out in the forest, and the threats that are facing the animals. We were shown a bag of snare traps that they have collected over a couple of months from the forest. It is so necessary that we have these expert trackers working to prevent this activity and educate the locals about the preservation of the park so that it can remain pristine and safe for the future.
We walked up one of the big rivers in the National Park, to look for signs of some of the other animals that are found in the forest. With the help of the Rangers, who know the forest and the animals’ movements so intimately, we were able to see scat (poo) and spoor (footprints) from Otters, Civets and various bush Deer.
The trees around the river are endlessly tall, and filled with bird sounds and butterflies flying around. It’s an incredible feeling to be able to enter this sanctuary and be an observer for a few days. With no internet or reception we were completely at one with the bush. We will head back to the National Park offices in the coming days and then eventually back to Hanoi and our homes in Australasia.
These past two weeks in Vietnam have been an incredible experience. Working with FFI and the National Park team has been really beneficial in forming new relationships and understanding the challenges that they face in Pu Mat National Park and how we can help. After being in the National Park and meeting the Rangers, it’s clear FFI need more time and resources to increase capacity of SMART training with their staff. FFI also need more Rangers in the forest to assist with snare removal and biodiversity monitoring. These are the biggest priorities for FFI and they’re vital to ensure protection of the forest in Pu Mat National Park. It’s great to see support from the Wellington Zoo Conservation Fund going towards such an important project and I’m proud to have assisted FFI in their protection work in the National Park.
I want to say a huge thanks to all the people who have welcomed us in to their culture, and shared the amazing stories of conservation with us. There is amazing work happening here in Vietnam, and I'm so excited that Wellington Zoo will continue on this conservation journey with our ZAA partners and the FFI team.
I am so grateful for the support of the Wellington Zoo Conservation Fund for supporting this partnership with Fauna & Flora International and my trip over to Vietnam.