One year ago, Vietnam lost its last known rhino. Now, it could be on its way to losing its gaur, its gibbons, and its pangolins, too.
In the city of Da Lat, Vietnamese enforcement teams raided a series of restaurants and seized entire or partial specimens of wild pig, porcupine, sambar deer, mouse deer, bamboo rats, snakes, civets, and pangolin. All are considered illegal to hunt and sell. It was just the latest action by the Lam Dong Forest Protection Department (FPD) in an ongoing effort to crack down on wildlife crimes within Vietnam’s borders.
All together, the FPD teams carried out raids on 27 restaurants and one souvenir shop across Da Lat, capital of the southern province of Lam Dong, seizing 194 pounds of wild meat. They confiscated mounted horns and antlers of gaur (a wild cattle species), Eld’s deer, and serow (a goat-like animal), along with stuffed gibbons and douc langur (a type of monkey). The raid teams also seized over 100 live animals including bamboo rats, wild doves, monitor lizards, jungle fowl, pheasants, ferret badgers, masked palm civets, and brush-tailed porcupines.
The raids follow a WCS survey that found 57 out of 68 of restaurants in Da Lat were serving wildlife, including those fined last August in Lam Dong’s biggest raid.
“We applaud the efforts of the Lam Dong Forest Protection Department to stop the illegal sale of wildlife, but the impact of these seizures to stop wildlife criminals in Da Lat is limited by the lack of effective punishment,” said Dr. Scott Roberton, of WCS-Vietnam. “We urge the authorities to revoke business licenses for any repeat offenders. This will ensure that the risk of serving wildlife outweighs the potential profit.”
Mr. Vo Giang Tuyen, Vice-head of Lam Dong Forest Protection Department, sent a clear warning. “Da Lat does not tolerate anyone selling wildlife illegally,” he said. “A two-strike rule for restaurants would send the right message. If the provincial authorities won’t close these restaurants down, FPD will have to keep checking and issuing fines until they stop serving wildlife illegally, which takes a significant amount of both human and financial resources.”
In recent years, Vietnam has made a number of large wildlife seizures, but relatively few criminals in these cases have received strict punishments and almost none have been given the maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment. For instance, the biggest offender ensnared in August’s raid—Tu Loan Restaurant and Zoo—is still under investigation by police and prosecutors. The restaurant has since reopened and is once again selling illegal wildlife to customers.