8 PM and surrounded by complete darkness, a group of 14 brave souls, armed with only their headlamps and gloves, ventured deeper into the heart of Cuc Phuong National Park. The forest seemed to be teeming with activity, and the chorus of wildlife resounding in the air. This was exactly the reason why these lads were here.
All of a sudden, one target was seen scurrying across the clearing… and another one spotted in the trees… soon the students realised that they were everywhere! Immediately, excitement broke out as the group scattered in all directions, chasing and grabbing the fleeing creatures and filling up zip-lock bags with their prized catches. Within an hour, countless bags have been filled up with lizards and frogs of varying species and sizes.
Accompanied by Dr Mendoza and Mr Tommy Tan from NUS, alongside Dr Nguyen Manh Ha and Dr Le Trong Dat, both of whom are local veterans in the field, the group’s mission for the night was to carry out a herpetology survey and to be exposed to the field techniques of handling and measuring live specimens. This was part of the 6 weeks Special Term summer programme – ENV2201: Wildlife Protection in Southeast Asia Module, offered in Special Term 2.
The journey first began in Singapore, where students learnt about the perspectives and roles played by different institutions – government agencies, zoos, museums and rescue centres in local conservation, allowing students to view the situation from new angles. This would also mentally prepared the students for Vietnam had in store for them in the following weeks.
Subsequently, students found themselves in the Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES), a research centre within Vietnam National University in Hanoi. This was where students were introduced to Vietnam and its biodiversity, as well as the challenges faced in wildlife management in the country. These guest speakers, representing a range of local governmental agencies and non-governmental organisations, provided a holistic perspective on conservation issues through case studies in Vietnam.
The main adventure truly began as the group was brought out of the humid city and into the cool montane forests of Tam Dao National Park and the leech-infested Cuc Phuong National Park for jungle trekking, bird watching and botany survey alongside many other field activities. Along the way, students were treated to a picturesque sampan tour of Van Long Wetlands Nature Reserve, where they even caught a glimpse of the critically endangered Delacour’s langur along the limestone karst hills.
Students also had the opportunity to visit several animal rescue centres, where confiscated wildlife from illegal operations are housed. Students helped out in cleaning the enclosures and preparing food enrichments for the animals.
“As afternoon approached, it was lunch time for the bears! We prepared the food and entered the bear enclosures to ‘strategically’ hide their food items and by doing so, provide some form of enrichment for the bears. As we watched the bears scale up the obstacle course before feasting on their snacks, we were filled with gratitude and a sense of fulfilment, knowing that we had positively stimulated them.” – Joeline Lim
Through this course, students can appreciate the success and learn from the mistakes of wildlife management in both countries. In addition, students gained a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by Singapore and Vietnam towards wildlife protection in their respective social, economic and political settings; factors that would impact the cross-applicability of conservation strategies.
During the 2 weeks spent in Vietnam, some students may admit having insufficient sleep. Some nights, students were kept awake gazing at the stars and being mesmerised by fireflies. Other nights, students found themselves trudging through the forest to do night surveys. As the presentation deadline approached, students found themselves staying up late to perfect their powerpoints and rehearse scripts. Yet despite the fatigue students faced, these were the moments everyone bonded, sang along to oldies and enjoyed each others’ company. Such beautiful and lasting memories will be deeply etched in each of the student’s hearts forever…
We would like to thank Dr JC Mendoza, Mr Tommy Tan, Dr Ha N.M, Mdm Phuong & Ms Renee Lau for ensuring our well-being and safety. We would also like to specially mention Dr Hoang V.T from CRES, Dr Hung L.M, Mr Cuong N.M, as well as guest speakers from AVA, NParks, LCKHM, Toddycats, MARD, FFI VN, TRAFFIC International, VN Academy of Forests Sciences, IUCN VN, Centre for Biodiversity & Conservation, Soc Soon Animal Rescue Centre, AnimalsAsia, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, CP Turtle Conservation Centre, CP Endangered Primate Rescue Centre. All of whom have provided us with invaluable insights and first-hand experiences working on the ground.
Authors: Joeline and Donovan from Year 2