For a furry feeling, be a 'detective'

From left: Caged bear at an illegal bear-raising site in Ho Chi Minh City; illegally traded gibbon in Ho Chi Minh City and varran in liquor [as traditional medicine] at a restaurant in Kon Tum Province in the Central Highlands
Photos: WAR*
*Wildlife At Risk is a Ho Chi Minh City-based non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the biodiversity of Vietnam by combating illegal wildlife trade, raising environmental awareness and promoting the conservation of endangered species and their habitats

Vietnam Heritage, October-November 2011 -- Cutting off heads, skinning, slitting throats or openings bellies in front of customers, restaurants and pubs show that their wild-food dishes are made from fresh meat. The pantomime is also entertaining. But the whole thing was intolerable for 19-year-old Nguyen Thanh Hung, who last year decided to set up a ‘detective’ team to ‘rescue’ the animals. Hung was a member of Education for Nature Vietnam, which he had joined in early 2009. Hung’s job was to detect slaughtering of wild animals at restaurants, pubs or traditional-medicine shops and report it to relevant agencies. In June, 2010, Hung and some close friends established a group called Action for Wildlife Volunteer Club (AWVC), also known as the ‘detective’ club. Hung said told Vietnam Heritage, ‘This was the first wildlife-protection club established in Vietnam.’ Hung, a sociology student at Ho Chi Minh City Open University, is club manager.
Only two months after establishment, the club had attracted more than 700 members. Now, it has around 1,800 members, mostly students, from junior-high-school- to university-level.
Hung said the first thing a ‘detective’ had do when joining AWVC was learn how to identify the wild animals, by studying photographs and watching videos. They also learnt how to conduct investigations and write reports to local authorities.
 The detectives could play restaurant customer or patient at traditional medicine shops. Wild foods were often listed on menus, but sometimes not. The ‘detective’ went around the restaurant to see if wild animals were being kept. AWVC had come across more than 400 cases of killing, selling or keeping wild animals illegally. Most of the rescued animals were tortoises, monkeys, birds, snakes, squirrels, weasels and lorises.
Hung said the reports by the ‘detectives’ showed that intellectuals, government officials and businesspeople made up the majority of consumers of wild-animal meat. There were now eight clubs like AWVC throughout the country. ‘Most of us are students, so we don’t have much money. Each volunteer must contribute VND20,000 ($0.95) per month to maintain the operation of the club.’ Hung hopes the Government will allow him to set up a wildlife rescue association so that it will have more powers and rights.n

AWVC is at High Tech Centre Tower,
Room 3A2, 97 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Ward 7, Dist.3, Ho Chi Minh City, E-mail info@awvc.org, website www.awvc.org.

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