In the dining area of a restaurant in the Binh Dien district of Thua Thien-Hue province, there is a large board that reads: Wildlife In Danger – We have to act. Last week, I found one deer, two cats, three pigs, four monkeys and eight weasels in cages in the back. This popular restaurant not only serves these animals, it also provides illegal wildlife products for other local eateries. Customers can even ask to see the endangered animals before they are cooked, to ensure they are real. Wild animals are prized as food, but they are also hunted down for their fur, meat, bones and other body parts which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Animals should not be considered goods. A friend of mine is very proud of his collection of medicine made with a wide variety of wildlife from snake to bear he poached or bought. He said the collection is worth a fortune. Products from endangered animals are status symbols in Vietnam. Businessmen and government officials offer each another medicine made from bear bile, snake or tiger bones, rhino horn pieces as presents, and wildlife meals at restaurants. A rich businessman from Ha Tinh province has a tiger’s pelt in his living room. He told me he bought it from Myanmar and used its bones for medicine. The problem is rampant. On September 6, customs officials from the central province of Ha Tinh captured 10 lizards wrapped in bags carried on a motorbike. The lizards were all alive and weighed 103 kilograms. The smuggler threw the lizards away and ran. Two days earlier, environmental police officials from the province seized four tiger cubs and 119 endangered pangolins from suspected wildlife smugglers. They were all alive. Police said the animals would be given to forest rangers who will release them back into the wild. Another 85 pangolins seized from suspected smugglers were released into the wild in July, local media reported, although some suspect rangers and police officials take bribes from poachers and smugglers and not all rescued animals are returned to their habitat. There have been calls for the monitoring of animal releases. Religious people, especially religious leaders, should set an example of respecting wildlife by refusing to use wildlife products. Educators must increase awareness about the importance of protecting wildlife. I have seen children destroying birds’ nests in trees, ignoring the parent birds flying around them and the young birds falling down and dying. Children have to be educated on environmental protection and the role of wildlife in the environment. They should learn how to treat wildlife with respect. Last August, two mature elephants’ decomposing bodies were founded in the Yok Don National Park in the central highland province of Dak Lak. The elephants -- one female and one male with his tusks removed and his trunk cut off -- were believed to have belonged to a herd of 29 wild elephants living in the national park. The dead male elephant was the only mature male of the herd, said Huynh Trung Luan, director of the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Centre. Its death seriously threatens the remaining population. The center recorded that 19 elephants have been poached since 2009, with five killed this year alone. Tran Van Thanh, temporary director of the park, admitted that elephant hunting is rampant, despite patrols by forest rangers. "The forest is big, so we need support from local authorized agencies and police to help prevent the illegal hunting of wild elephants," he said. Environment group WWF in June branded Vietnam one of the worst offenders in failing to tackle the trade in endangered species – an accusation which Vietnam denies. There may be some progress in public education. Last July people were outraged by photos posted on Facebook of three soldiers torturing two monkeys. The three bought the monkeys from villagers before torturing them and hiring villagers to slaughter them. One photo showed a monkey having a cigarette pressed into its mouth. Local media reported that one soldier was dismissed from his unit in central Gia Lai province and the two other soldiers were reprimanded. Emmus Traveler is the pen name of a Church observer in Ho Chi Minh City
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