Silence of the snares

Posted on January, 12 2021

Luong Viet Hung - Protected Area Manager, WWF-Viet Nam
My name is Luong Viet Hung, a Protected Area Manager at WWF-Viet Nam. I live and work in the Central Annamites Landscape in Viet Nam.

Since I started working as a conservationist at WWF-Viet Nam in 2010, my time was mostly spent in the forest piloting the Community-based Forest Guard Model, recruiting modelling members from the local people living around the Saola Protected Areas. This is a model that focuses on snare removal. I accompanied the Community-based Forest Guard Teams for at least 15 days per month in the forest. After every patrol trip, I returned to the Office and made a short field report to send to the Project Management Team—it was called the Saola Task Force at the piloting period. My main duty at that time was to train and coach the Community-based Forest Guard Team on how to patrol, use the GPS, map, and compass, record field data, deal with illegal activities, solve problems happening in the field, etc. I had just made the field report when I stepped into the forest with the patrol teams and encountered many snares, with the snare fence being hundreds or thousands of meters long. In particular, I was very shocked and upset to see so many dead bodies of wildlife on the snaring traps. The other members had the same reaction as me; their faces were saddened. After a few minutes of silence in front of the incident, we all knew what we had to do without exchanging a single word. We took action immediately and destroyed the snaring fence, collected the wires, and recorded the field data on our datasheet. There were times at which we removed thousands of snares with a 7-day patrol trip. After each such patrol, we often encouraged each other with a “Well done everybody, we have indirectly saved thousands of wildlife this patrol.” It motivated us to continue our work.

My most memorable memory is from 2011, when my team and I rescued a red-shanked douc langur while on a patrol in Thua Thien Hue Saola Nature Reserve. When my team and I walked along the snare fence to destroy the traps, we saw the monkey trapped on the leg by a snare. After a quick discussion, we decided to assign Mr. Nguyen Huu Hoa, Community-based Forest Guard Group Leader, to approach the douc langur. It proved very friendly when he approached, and fortunately, it was not injured. We quickly released it into the forest. I was truly happy seeing it jump on the branches of the trees. The entire team has had a wonderful time since starting this job.

During many subsequent patrols, we have rescued and released many trapped wildlife individuals into the forest. Among these are serows, wild-pigs, red muntjacs, turtles, monkeys, and Annamite striped rabbits.

A question we are always asked is, “What do you dislike the most about patrolling?” Almost all of our members answer regarding our encounters with poachers and loggers. I would like to tell you of a memorable—oh no, I must say, a scary—conversation between my team and a local poacher. Once, I was accompanied by the Community-based Forest Guard Team, when suddenly, a member from a team patrolling nearby came to inform us that they were being threatened by a local poacher. I hurriedly accompanied him back to his team. Upon arrival, I saw the poacher with a sharp knife in his hand. After spewing threatening words and informing us about why he had a knife, he claimed that the forest belonged to him. He had poached for many years and asked why the patrol team destroyed his snares. I approached him and explained our reasoning to him. After much explanation, he finally agreed to join me to come to Saola NR headquarter to discuss the matter. Although we were very scared,  in the end, everything was resolved. All the team members were left happy and relieved.

Poaching snares are very inexpensive and easy to make. With just one bike wire brake, the local people can make one animal snare trap. With the bigger snare traps, a bigger cable wire is used. All can be bought at the local markets. Anyone from local communities can make and set them up in the forest easily. They can catch any and all animals—large and small mammals, amphibians, birds, species living in trees like primates, etc. From 2011–2019, in just two Saola Nature Reserves—which are applying the CarBi Community-based Forest Guard Model—we have removed and destroyed over 100,000 snares. You can imagine what would have happened if these snares had not been removed and destroyed. Would 100,000 wild animals have been trapped and killed? 

In 2013, I presented the results of the CarBi Community-based Forest Guard Model in a national workshop, after two years of its implementation. A national scientist remarked, “If this model were applied 10 years ago, then lots of wildlife would have been saved from extinction.” However, that was not all—the CarBi team and I are thinking of a more comprehensive approach. Poaching is not an independent activity: it is a chain consisting of many links, including the local people, communities, protection agencies, traders, restaurants, markets, consumers, etc. Therefore, to end poaching, we need to create a comprehensive solution by promoting sustainable livelihoods to local communities and changing the behaviors and awareness surrounding wildlife hunting. We need to use community engagement to strengthen the protected area management and wildlife trade.
It is expected that intensive efforts to halt snaring will result in rebounds in wildlife in Central Annamites.
© WWF-Viet Nam / Duong Van Danh