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Vietnam Protests Low Ranking in Conservation Report

Fisherman Nguyen Ba Toan uses a ruler to measure a turtle, the Amyda Cartilagineus, in his house in Hanoi, October 14, 2011.
Fisherman Nguyen Ba Toan uses a ruler to measure a turtle, the Amyda Cartilagineus, in his house in Hanoi, October 14, 2011.
HANOI — Vietnamese authorities are protesting a report published last week that ranked the country among the worst of 23 nations in a wildlife crime scorecard.

Vietnam was ranked among the worst countries in combating wildlife crime related to three key species in a report by the Swiss-based conservation group the World Wildlife Fund.

The report ranked countries in Africa and Asia facing high levels of poaching and trafficking in tiger, rhinoceros and elephant parts. It scored how these countries were doing in combating wildlife trade in relation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES.

Preserving wild animals

The 175-nation treaty allows trade in wild animals as long as it does not threaten the survival of the species.

Vietnam received a worst-possible score for failing to protect tigers and rhinos.

WWF international wildlife trade policy analyst Colman O’Criodain said Vietnam has been identified as the top destination for rhinoceros-horn poaching, which has fueled a crisis in South Africa.

"I think it is fair to say their failure on rhinos is the most acute issue facing rhino conservation in the world at the moment. It is driving rhino poaching in South Africa," said O’Criodain.

WWF report is critical

Vietnam did not welcome the news. Its CITES management authority said last week the WWF report was not objective. Vietnam's CITES management office director Do Quang Tung said the wildlife scorecard was too critical.

"They ignore the efforts of the law enforcement. So far, we have made significant publication of the illegal trading of wildlife to Vietnam. However the report does not recognize that. It only criticizes Vietnam," said Tung.

Tung said Vietnam has confiscated about 18 tons of ivory and is working on combating the trade in rhinoceros horn.

Rhino poaching has reached crisis point in recent years. The horn is used in Vietnam as a traditional medicine to treat ailments from hangovers to cancer, even though there is no scientific evidence to support this. According to the WWF, a record 448 South African rhinos were killed for their horns last year.

Denying licenses to hunt rhinos

A record number of Vietnamese have applied for licenses since 2008 to hunt rhinos in South Africa, where permission to hunt is given as long as the animals are not used for commercial purposes. In April, however, the South African government decided to stop issuing licenses to Vietnamese nationals because they did not receive assurance this would not happen.

Vietnam’s own native species, the Javan rhino, was declared extinct in 2011 after the last known surviving animal in Vietnam was found with a bullet in its skull.

Tung admits the government has not done enough to protect endangered species, but said that does not mean they have not done anything.

"Actually it is not enough, but we try, you know. We have mobilized all of the law enforcement, and again with the illegal trading of wildlife in general, not only rhino. We try our best, we cannot do anything more with our resources," said Tung.

Attemtping to make progress

WWF's O’Criodain points out the media portrayal of Vietnam as the “worst” in wildlife crime is a bit misleading, because the report focuses only on three species.

"There are other countries that are as bad in their own way, and in fairness to Vietnam we would note that point. The only thing is, particularly for rhinos, is that Vietnam is the most egregious country at the moment because they really are the main destination for the horn that is being poached in Southern Africa," said O’Criodain.

While some conservationists in Vietnam say there is no political will in the country to tackle conservation issues, others argue the only way to protect wildlife is to work with authorities.