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This is an urgent call for action to end the illegal trade of douc langurs (genus Pygathrix). There are three species of douc langur. All are critically endangered:
The douc langur’s future is threatened by deforestation and habitat loss (Nadler 2014a: 55). However, the illegal trade is another major factor in population decline. One of the main drivers of the douc langur trade in Vietnam and into China is for its use in a particular form of ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’, also known as ‘bone glue’ or cao (Nadler, 2014b: 54). With each day that passes the douc langur’s chances of survival are diminishing.
Researching the Illegal Trade of the Douc Langur
My understanding of the plight of the douc langur and the impact of the illegal trade has grown through my research relationship with Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV).
I am a law lecturer and multi-disciplinary researcher living in Australia. In early 2018, I came across an article on ENV’s work in the Humane Society International Australia’s 2017 Campaign Report. At the time, I had recently completed a PhD focusing on animals and the law and had the opportunity to apply for a Central Queensland University new staff research grant.
I was inspired to reach out to ENV. My initial conversation with Doug Hendrie, ENV’s Chief Technical Adviser led to a grant proposal aimed at improving the understanding the illegal trade of douc langurs. In 2019, I spent five weeks at the ENV office, selecting case files for analysis, and talking to experts in douc langur conservation, wildlife protection policy, and traditional medicine practice. I developed a multidisciplinary method that drew on my background in legal research, anthropology, and community development.
Below, I introduce the douc langur and briefly discuss some of the findings of my analysis of two samples of ENV case files related to illegal trading and hunting seizures for these three species. While the full study will be discussed in a future publication, it is important to recognise the urgent need for stronger cross border prevention and enforcement strategies between Vietnam and its neighbours: Laos, Cambodia, and China.
The Douc Langur
Douc langurs (also known as ‘Douc’ or ‘Voc’) are found in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, east of the Mekong River (Nadler and Brockman 2014: 173). The Doucs’ home is in the forest canopy, where they enjoy a diet of leaves, along with fruits, seeds and flowers; its composition changing with the seasons.
Under Vietnamese law, the three species of douc langur are protected under Decree 160/2013 (updated by Decree 64/2019) and Decree 06/2019 ND-CP: 1B. Offences against regulations for the management and protection of these critically endangered animals are found in Vietnam’s revised Penal Code (No. 12/2017/QH14). These protections reflect Vietnam’s commitment to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Distribution and Population
Douc langurs are very habitat dependent, and each species has a specific geographical distribution across Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (see Nadler and Brockman 2014; International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2021)
Map Source: Vu X-B, Nguyen D-T, Smith C & Nghiem H-S (2015) Vietnam’s responses to provincial economic disparities through central provincial government financial relations. Australasian Journal of Regional Studies 21(1) 104-137.
The red-shanked douc langur occurs in ‘east-central Laos, as well as northern and central Vietnam’ (Nadler and Brockman 2014: 175-176; Nadler et al 2007: 17-18). There is also a small population in north-eastern Cambodia (Nadler and Brockman 2014: 175; Courdat et al 2012). Laos has the largest population in the region (Courdat et al 2012: 876), with the Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area probably holding ‘the world’s largest population with an estimate of at least 4,500 groups in the area’s suitable habitat’ (Courdat et al 2020: 4). Populations in Vietnam are small and fragmented (Nadler and Brockman 2014: 175). While ‘it is likely that the largest population’ is in Quang Binh province, ‘estimated at 445-2137 individuals’, Nadler and Brockman caution that these numbers are ‘probably overestimates’ (2014: 175)
The grey-shanked douc langur is found ‘in fragmented populations of Vietnam’s central highlands’ (Nadler and Brockman 2014: 183-184). The species’ population is ‘estimated at 550-700 individuals’ (Nadler and Brockman 2014: 183; Vu et al 2019: 2). However, as some suitable habitat areas have not been surveyed, the entire population is estimated at approximately ‘1450-1700 individuals’ (Long et al 2020: 4).
The black-shanked douc langur is found in eastern Cambodia and southern Vietnam (Nadler and Brockman 2014: 191). In Vietnam, populations are fragmented and small (Nadler and Brockman 2014: 191-192). The largest population in the region, estimated to be 40 000 individuals, is in the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area of Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province (Nadler and Brockman 2014: 191). While superficially this population estimate may seem large, the ongoing and rapid population decline (Duc et al 2020: 1) is of great concern and underlies the black-shanked douc langur’s critically endangered status.
Case File Analysis Findings Summary
Trading seizures in the northern provinces
All bar one seizure in the northern provinces involved black-shanked douc langurs, whose natural habitat is in the southern provinces of Vietnam, and eastern Cambodia. The seizures in Cao Bang, Ha Noi, and Bac Kan were all destined for China. Overall, seizure locations in the northern provinces were transit points, with China as the ultimate destination. The black-shanked douc langurs seized in Vietnam originated from southern Vietnam and probably Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province. The conclusion that the source points for the trade included eastern Cambodia was supported by qualitative information contained in the case files.
Trading seizures in the central provinces
The trading seizures in the central provinces brought supply across the border of Laos into the douc langur trading picture, and strongly suggested Kon Tum as a douc langur trading hotspot, or major transit point for south and central Vietnam.
Trading seizures in the southern provinces
All seizures in the southern provinces involved black-shanked douc langurs. Dak Lak was the reported purchase location in the largest trading seizure (108 douc langurs) and another case in Dak Lak involved 13 black-shanked douc langurs. Several cases portrayed border crossings into Cambodia for hunting and trade into Vietnam.
The results of this study frames Vietnam as a transit as well as a source country for the illegal douc langur trade. Urgent attention is required to detect and prevent hunting of all three douc langur species and the trade of them and their body parts across:
The overall movement of douc langurs from south to north Vietnam in the trading cases, and the prevalence of hunting in the southern provinces, indicates that prevention strategies ought to focus on these ‘up-stream’ points of hunting and trading. As part of this, there is a need for ongoing, coordinated, and collaborative enforcement strategies between Cambodian, Laotian, Chinese, and Vietnamese enforcement authorities, as well as targeted community awareness and education campaigns in these areas.
I look forward to continuing my connection with Education for Nature Vietnam to support its commitment to combatting the illegal wildlife trade.
Dr Alexandra McEwan
The College of Law, Criminology, and Justice
Central Queensland University (Melbourne Campus)
21 May 2021
Courdat C N Z, Duckworth J W & Timmins R D (2012) Distribution and conservation status of the Red-Shanked Douc (Pygathrix nemaeus) in Lao PDR: an update. American Journal of Primatology 74(10) 874–889. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/ajp.22027
Courdat C N Z, Quyet L K, Duc H, Phiaphalath P, Rawson B M, Nadler T, Ulibarri, L & Duckworth J W (2020) Pygathrix nemaeus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T39826A17941247. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T39826A17941247.en
Duc H, Quyet L K, Rawson B M, O’Brien J & Covert H (2020) Pygathrix nigripes. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T39828A17941480. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T39828A17941480.en
International Union for Conservation of Nature (2021) International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species https://www.iucnredlist.org/
Long H T, Duc H, Quyet L K, Rawson B M, Nadler T & Covert H (2020) Pygathrix cinerea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T39827A17941672. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T39827A17941672.en
Nadler T, Vu N T & Streicher U (2007) Conservation status of Vietnamese primates. Vietnamese Journal of Primatology 1, 7-26.
Nadler T (2014a) Habitat disturbance and loss, and the primates of Vietnam. In T Nadler and D K. Brockman (eds.) Primates of Vietnam (Endangered Primate Rescue Centre) (pp. 55-60).
Nadler T (2014b) Primates in traditional medicine. In T Nadler and D K. Brockman (eds.) Primates of Vietnam (Endangered Primate Rescue Centre) (pp. 51-54).
Nadler T & Brockman D K (2014) Douc Langurs. In T Nadler and D K. Brockman (eds.) Primates of Vietnam (Endangered Primate Rescue Centre) (pp. 172-296).
Vu T, Tran D V, Tran H T P, Nguyen M D, Do A T, Ta N T, Cao H T, Pham N T & Phan D V (2019) An assessment of the Impact of Climate Change on the Distribution of the Grey-shanked Douc Pygathrix cinerea using an Ecological Niche Model (2019) Primates 61, 267–275 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-019-00763-8).
Vu X-B, Nguyen D-T, Smith C & Nghiem H-S (2015) Vietnam’s responses to provincial economic disparities through central provincial government financial relations. Australasian Journal of Regional Studies 21(1) 104-137.
Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) debuts the newest Public Service Announcement (PSA), Bear Karma, shinning a light onto the dark reality of Vietnamese bear bile farms which keep modern-day Vietnam bound to adverse practices of the past.
Confined, confused, and completely helpless, the PSA opens as a bear bile user must now endure the extraction of his own bile. Personifying the experience of bears held captive for their bile, the PSA’s surreal perspective exposes the very real world of wildlife exploitation that continues in Vietnam due to demand.
“ENV’s latest PSA ends with a strong message to the public that humans must change our relationship with nature to avoid negative consequences,” states Dung Nguyen, Vice Director of ENV. “We need to end the cruel and illegal bear bile business, and give the remaining captive bears a better life at rescue centers.”
After the most successful year yet for the movement to end bear bile farming, which saw a total of 32 bears voluntarily transferred from bear farms to rescue centers in 2020. “Vietnam is clearly on its way to eliminating this illegal industry,” says Dung. As of April 22, 2021, a total of 369 bears still remain on bear bile farms in 24 provinces. In this respect, ENV is calling on the remaining 24 provinces and cities, including the nation’s capital of Hanoi, to join the rest of Vietnam in putting an end to bear bile farms in their jurisdictions.
“In 2021, ENV continues efforts to convince bear farmers to give up their bears while working with authorities to do the same,” Dung remarks. “But the responsibility to end this outdated and illegal industry is not only on authorities and bear farm owners, it’s also up to the people of Vietnam to end demand for bear bile.”
Have you ever wondered how ENV handles a wildlife crime case from beginning to end? Well, look no further! Our newest film, The Women Fighting Wildlife Crime in Vietnam, highlights exactly how our team turns public reports into prison sentences.
Want to help? You can make a difference for wildlife today https://bit.ly/HelpENVFightWildlifeCrime
Taken from a real ENV case, the film illustrates each team’s role in protecting wildlife. However, not every case is as quickly executed as the one portrayed in this film.
For example the Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) must overcome challenges that arise when authorities are overwhelmed with other cases, and our Crime Officers have to be strong and persistent to demand effective results. With 10 new wildlife crime reports a day, the WCU team finds themselves juggling authorities, investigations, and multiple members of the public at a time. However, they never give up or slow down, and continue to tackle almost 3,000 wildlife crime cases a year!
Just as the WCU team has their challenges, so does the Prosecution Team. While ENV Prosecution has undoubtedly created a reputation as a valuable support system for prosecutors and courts, there are 63 provinces in Vietnam and even more districts and cities. With many different jurisdictions and varying levels of willingness to punish wildlife criminals, the team must be diligent to cultivate a better understanding for wildlife laws in every province, city, and district while influencing prosecutions. Equally, there can be conflicting laws in certain cases or loopholes that the criminal might exploit. Though challenging, ENV’s Prosecution Team has managed to strengthen prosecution proceedings and court decisions across the country.
And finally, we cannot forget our Communications Team. There are almost 100 million people in Vietnam, many of which live outside urban areas (where environmental awareness is more present). To reach as many people as possible, our Communications Team utilizes journalists and media outlets, including national and provincial TV stations and radio programs that reach rural and traveling listeners, to disburse messages to protect wildlife and report wildlife crime. In this regard, the team is in constant communication with hundreds of media contacts to encourage publicization of wildlife trade issues, while creatively developing new ways of expanding the reach of ENV’s message.
Though there are challenges and a long road ahead to end demand and exploitation of wildlife, these efforts are paving the way towards a brighter future for wildlife worldwide.
Thanks for watching our ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that is creating long-term impact on wildlife protection in Vietnam. You are also invited to read and share our current crowdfunding campaign that is aiming to raise $5,000 to support all of ENV’s work in the coming months to ensure we can protect as much wildlife as possible.
Today, Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) has just released the newest Public Service Announcement (PSA), Safer with Science, which drives home the fact that Vietnam is moving towards a future that chooses modern medicine over wildlife products.
The PSA begins with an ambulance rushing a patient to seek medical help. Suddenly, the ambulance halts as they come to a fork in the road, forcing the driver to choose left towards wildlife medicine or right towards modern medicine. After an argument between the doctor, wife, and even the critically ill patient, eventually they head right towards modern medicine.
“After a chaotic year enduring the consequences of zoonotic outbreak, ENV’s newest PSA is calling on the Vietnamese public to head in the right direction by ending the trade and consumption of wildlife in Vietnam,” states Nguyen Phuong Dung, Vice Director of ENV. “While authorities and law enforcement in Vietnam are showing increased effort to stop wildlife trade, the public must do their part to end demand. Using wildlife products is not only killing our natural world, but as we saw in 2020, it has extremely deadly effects on people as well.”
Exploitation of nature and wildlife is threatening our planet and our well-being. The trade and consumption of wildlife is linked to a number of deadly infectious diseases as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to WHO, about 70% of all infectious diseases over the last 30 years have been zoonotic, including HIV/AIDS, avian influenza, swine flu, SARS, Ebola, MERS, and now Covid-19.
Due to the serious risks to public health posed by the wildlife trade, ENV is calling on the Ministry of Health in Vietnam to create and promote more communications campaigns educating the public about the dangers of hunting, trading, consuming, and being exposed to wildlife. ENV’s current Covid-19 campaign, Never Again, has been running nationwide since April 2020 with the aim of spreading the message that wildlife is not safe for consumption or trade.
In addition to NGO-led awareness campaigns, Dung stresses the importance of a more vocal role by relevant ministries in helping educate the public. “Wildlife trade and consumption not only endangers our biodiversity, but also threatens our own safety and health,” Dung says. “The message from nature has been loud and clear, and it’s in our best interest to listen and take the necessary action to prevent future occurrences of zoonotic threats to our health and survival.”
Last year, ENV’s Wildlife Crime Unit received more reports of wildlife crime than any other year in ENV history, and by the end of 2020, the Wildlife Crime Hotline was receiving 10 new reports of wildlife crime a day. Alarmingly, an increasing amount of reports were online advertisements for wildlife products, indicating that demand for wildlife is still high in Vietnam.
For the past ten years, ENV has worked to eliminate the sale of wildlife products at traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) shops, which is illegal. As part of this campaign, ENV recently sent nearly 2,300 copies of TCM advocacy brochures to TCM shops across the country, providing knowledge on wildlife laws and encouraging TCM practitioners to use plant-based alternatives to stay in compliance with the law.
“Just like the patient in the PSA, we cannot afford to waste any time. As a country, we must stand together to eliminate Vietnam’s illegal wildlife trade,” warns Dung. “I believe the public in Vietnam will make the right choice to protect wildlife and our health by trusting in modern medicine.”
ENV wishes to thank and acknowledge U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Save the Rhino International for funding this PSA to increase educational awareness and reduce demand for endangered wildlife products.
For decades, Asiatic black bears have been held captive on Vietnamese bear bile farms so that owners may extract their bile, a traditional medicine. In 2005, the Vietnamese government, in collaboration with World Animal Protection (WAP) and Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), began to crack down on the illegal exploitation of bears and selling of bear bile. At that time, more than 4,300 bears were recorded on Vietnamese bear bile farms.
After years of hard work, the number of bile bears has decreased to ~380 bears by the end of 2020. Additionally, 38 of Vietnam’s 63 provinces are now free of bile bears. However, while many provinces in Vietnam have taken great strides to become bile bear-free in recent years, Hanoi (and especially Hanoi’s Phuc Tho district) remains the biggest bear bile farming hotspot in the country. In Phuc Tho district alone, 152 bears are being kept for their bile by 27 farmers, making up more than 40% of Vietnam’s total captive bile bears and 90% of Hanoi’s bile bears.
The bear farming situation in Phuc Tho is a dark smear on the image of Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, both on a national and international scale. Now, the residents of Phuc Tho are calling for decisive action from authorities and bear owners to end this outdated and cruel practice.
Hanoi must not be left behind as the rest of the country ends bear farming! It’s time for Vietnam’s capital to set an example and take lead as the country’s guiding light to end bear bile farming in Vietnam once and for all.
Today, Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) releases its second “Never Again” Public Service Announcement (PSA). The film portrays life in Vietnam during the Covid-19 shutdown, and encourages the public to take action to ensure another pandemic is never again possible.
The PSA begins with familiar scenes during the 2020 pandemic of an eerily empty city, quickly building in speed and intensity – similar to the pandemic itself. Almost a year since the origin of the destructive coronavirus, the world is still reeling from the catastrophic effects. More than one million people have already lost their lives, the global economy has been severely impacted, and governments have spent trillions of dollars working to contain and eliminate the virus.
Covid-19 may be the latest deadly disease originating from wildlife, but it’s not unprecedented. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, about 70% of all infectious diseases over the last 30 years have been zoonotic, including HIV/AIDS, avian influenza, swine flu, SARS, Ebola, MERS, and now Covid-19. At this rate, we are bound to see more zoonotic outbreaks within our lifetime, unless we change now.
“The government of Vietnam has responded remarkably to the outbreak, not only in protecting the public from large-scale contagion, but also declaring stronger action to fight Vietnam’s illegal wildlife trade,” says Nguyen Phuong Dung, ENV’s Vice Director.
However, Dung warns, “While life may appear to have returned to normality in Vietnam, it is important that we do not forget the serious threat that Covid-19 and other viral diseases from animals pose to our health and safety, as well as the substantial economic losses we have faced from closure of businesses and fighting the pandemic.”
ENV’s “Never Again” PSA is part of ENV’s “Never Again” campaign, launched in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. The campaign calls upon the public to take drastic measures to permanently eliminate consumption and trade of wildlife. Since the first Covid-19 Public Service Announcement (PSA) in April, ENV has broadcast “Never Again” messages on over 60 news channels, including major channels such as VTV1, VTV2, VTV3, and VTV6, as well as in residential and commercial building elevators, on buses and trains, and virally on social media.
In a revolutionary initiative, 20 of the most prominent conservation organizations worldwide have united as the Wildlife Conservation 20 (WC20), requesting immediate action from world leaders to implement rehabilitation of our natural world into COVID-19 recovery plans. As the G20 convened for their annual summit this weekend, they were met with an unprecedented call to protect biodiversity, which is perhaps the most important component of government response to COVID-19 that will significantly reduce the risk of future pandemics.
Included in the WC20 Declaration are actions such as strengthening legislation and implementing new legislation, enhancing financial and technical support of law enforcement in key wildlife trafficking nations, and raising public awareness to reduce demand and trafficking of wildlife. It is estimated that $700 billion a year invested in these efforts would reverse the decline in biodiversity by 2030, a mere fraction of the estimated $26 trillion in economic damage already caused by COVID-19.
As a pioneering Vietnamese NGO on the front line, Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) is proud to be part of this important initiative. ENV plays a major role in combating the billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade by addressing the consumption and trade of wildlife in Vietnam, a dominant hub of wildlife trafficking and demand. Currently, ENV carries out programs targeting all of the above-mentioned WC20 priorities.
“Today, the entire world struggles to contain and ultimately bring an end to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Sadly, this is not the first deadly zoonotic disease and almost certainly will not be the last,” says Vu Thi Quyen, Executive Director and Founder of Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV). “We strongly urge G20 leaders to take active measures to aggressively and proactively address high-risk areas associated with zoonotic diseases originating from wildlife, and in doing so, prevent and eliminate the next virus before it has an opportunity to become yet another global pandemic.”
Click here to read the joint press release from EndPandemics WC20 members Freeland, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), and Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV).
Seven bears from two farms in Binh Duong have safely arrived at Four Paws’ Bear Sanctuary in Ninh Binh. Today’s transfer is a result of the owners deciding to give their bears a better life outside the confines of a cage, following in the footsteps of many other ex-bear farmers across the country.
In addition to the seven bears transferred today, six bears were transferred in October 2020, and another two were transferred on November 3rd in Phu Tho province, totaling 15 bears surrendered to rescue centers since October 1, 2020.
“Over the past few years, we have witnessed many bear owners transferring their bears to sanctuaries,” says Vu Thi Quyen, Executive Director of ENV. “ENV will continue to work hard to encourage other bear owners across the country to do the same until there are no more bears caged at bear bile farms in Vietnam.”
More than 4,300 bears were discovered at bear bile farms across Vietnam in 2005. By November 2020, this number has decreased to less than 400 individuals, and 60% of Vietnam’s provinces are now bile bear-free. This progress has been possible thanks to many years of hard work from the government, law enforcement authorities, the public, and a number of NGOs in Vietnam.
The Bear Coalition in Vietnam, comprised of ENV, World Animal Protection, and Four Paws International, is calling on the provincial leaders of remaining bear bile provinces to take strong measures to expedite an end to bear bile farming in their provinces. Authorities in bear bile provinces should encourage local bear owners to turn over their bears and strictly punish those who trade or exploit bears for their bile. Aggressive action and punishment will effectively deter others from doing the same and contribute to the nation’s efforts to make Vietnam a bear bile-free country.
The Bear Coalition also calls on all bear owners across Vietnam, especially in Hanoi – the country’s biggest hotspot for bear bile farming – to follow in the footsteps of ex-bear owners who have voluntarily turned over their bears.
“The time has come for remaining bear owners to join the rest of the country in making sure this embarrassing and cruel remnant of the past is completely eliminated from Vietnam’s progressing society,” says ENV Executive Director, Vu Thi Quyen.
The illegal wildlife trade is destroying our Earth, pushing endangered species to extinction, and threatening public health on a globally deadly scale as the 4th largest black-market industry worldwide. Vietnam is a major player in the widespread trafficking of wildlife, with high demand for wildlife and as a wildlife trafficking hub. Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) is a local NGO fighting to end Vietnam’s illegal wildlife trade through education and strategic action to combat wildlife crime.
Vietnam is a significant part of the global illegal wildlife trade threatening our Earth and human health. Demand for wildlife is high in Vietnam due to traditional medicine, consumption at restaurants, the status symbol of endangered species products, and the growing illegal pet trade. Large criminal networks take advantage of this demand by illegally supplying Vietnam with tons of wildlife and their products, while also using Vietnam as a transit country for wildlife smuggling routes.
ENV tackles Vietnam’s illegal wildlife trade through education and strategic work to combat wildlife crime. Awareness campaigns reach millions across Vietnam through schools, public events, TV, radio, social media, elevator screens, airports, buses, and trains. Meanwhile, ENV’s Wildlife Crime Unit receives more than 8 new public reports of wildlife crime a day. Case Officers coordinate a response by authorities to confiscate live animals and wildlife products, and arrest and prosecute criminals.
ENV has tackled over 45,000 wildlife crime violations, contributed to a 90% decrease of bears on bile farms, and by mobilizing authorities, confiscated tons of wildlife products and rescued thousands of wild animals from the illegal trade. ENV investigations have also led to the arrest and imprisonment of 4 trafficking network leaders. ENV’s work on demand reduction and enforcement has and continues to drive the change needed to secure a better future for wildlife, both in Vietnam and globally.