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Big-animal memories of a hunter in Dong Nai in the 1980s

Vietnam Heritage, February 2011 -- Timber exploitation for export and the establishment of forestry farms and hydroelectric dams all contributed to the rapid decrease in wild habitats. Millions of timber trees were cut down, thousands of hectares of forest land were cleared and wild animals were exterminated



Mr Hai remembering his days as a big-game hunter

An animal with eyes catching light within 100 metres couldn’t escape my single bullet,’ Mr Be Hai, a former hunter, said while sitting in a small tent on his farmland, where he grows cereal crops in the middle of the Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve, in Dong Nai Province. Mr Hai was born in an ancient forest and spent his childhood in the jungle, bathing in cool springs on hot summer days. His father, also a hunter, taught him to use the gun, axe and knife.
In the 1980s, the forests in Ma Da, which now belongs to Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve, were still abundant in valuable trees and wild animals. Thanks to these Mr Hai and his family could live well. They would hunt wild animals for meat and exchange the larger ones for food and household appliances. During those years, he would regularly farm during the day and hunt at night.
‘At the age of 13, as soon as I could carry the hunting gun, I was able to kill a 300-kg deer. Every night, getting two hog deer or several Eurasian wild pigs was easy for me,’ Mr Hai said. He said he wouldn’t kill small animals like lesser mouse deer and civet, but might shoot to drive them and would catch them alive to sell to restaurants. Live wild animals were worth more than dead ones.
At that time, wild fauna was abundant and there were not many hunters, so Mr Hai hunted adult animals and never shot pregnant ones. However, the glorious time of this skilful forest killer would not last long. Timber exploitation for export and the establishment of forestry farms and hydroelectric dams all contributed to the rapid decrease in wild habitats. Millions of timber trees were cut down, thousands of hectares of forest land were cleared and wild animals were exterminated.
In front of Mr Hai’s house, primeval forest has become low-value timber. ‘I had to go very far in deep forest to have a chance to hunt big animals,’ he said. ‘I had to walk for several kilometres in the forest just to hunt lesser mouse deer and civet. Money still urged me to go and hunt as much as possible.’ Increased [governmental] protection of wildlife in the area caused the price of wild meat to go up, though, anyway, the wildlife was close to extinction.
Among the animals he shot, the long-tailed macaque was the wisest and most difficult to hunt even though they often moved in large troops. The long-tailed macaque populations were very well organized. The leader always stood in the tallest tree to guard its whole troop. Whenever there was a sign of danger, it immediately howled and the group would retreat rapidly. Knowing this, experienced hunters often shot the leader monkey first, then the rest could be killed easily when they became disorganised and confused.
However, if these monkeys were shot while still in the trees, it would be difficult to get their bodies because they hung on to the branches until they died. Experienced hunters only fired to scare the monkeys in the trees and then killed them when they were moving in panic. With this technique of hunting, Mr Hai was admired and called a ‘forest killer’.
‘. . . with experience only in shooting wild animals, I hardly found a job, even one as a worker. So we still had to rely on hunting for our living,’ Mr Hai said. ‘Once, after a whole night threading through the forest, I had gone very far without noticing any animal. The lamp was dim already and I realized I was lost. Enduring pouring rain, I tried to find the way back, in cold and tiredness. While my body and mind were paralysed, the images of an empty rice jar and my children . . . appeared . . . Hunting animals illegaly was so harsh, I couldn’t let my children follow my way of life.’
At about 3 a.m., the rain had stopped and he had found the trail home. Mr Hai saw a big monkey and two small ones sleeping in a tall tree. He fired and the big monkey fell some way, but its hand grasped a branch. The two other monkeys disappeared into the darkness.
Mr Hai aimed at the clinging arm of the injured monkey but noticed it was holding something close to its chest with its other hand. He looked more carefully and realised it was a baby monkey. The mother, as it was, put the baby on to a branch.
Timber exploitation for export and the establishment of forestry farms and hydroelectric dams all contributed to the rapid decrease in wild habitats. Millions of timber trees were cut down, thousands of hectares of forest land were cleared and wild animals were exterminated

An animal with eyes catching light within 100 metres couldn’t escape my single bullet,’ Mr Be Hai, a former hunter, said while sitting in a small tent on his farmland, where he grows cereal crops in the middle of the Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve, in Dong Nai Province. Mr Hai was born in an ancient forest and spent his childhood in the jungle, bathing in cool springs on hot summer days. His father, also a hunter, taught him to use the gun, axe and knife.
In the 1980s, the forests in Ma Da, which now belongs to Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve, were still abundant in valuable trees and wild animals. Thanks to these Mr Hai and his family could live well. They would hunt wild animals for meat and exchange the larger ones for food and household appliances. During those years, he would regularly farm during the day and hunt at night.
‘At the age of 13, as soon as I could carry the hunting gun, I was able to kill a 300-kg deer. Every night, getting two hog deer or several Eurasian wild pigs was easy for me,’ Mr Hai said. He said he wouldn’t kill small animals like lesser mouse deer and civet, but might shoot to drive them and would catch them alive to sell to restaurants. Live wild animals were worth more than dead ones.
At that time, wild fauna was abundant and there were not many hunters, so Mr Hai hunted adult animals and never shot pregnant ones. However, the glorious time of this skilful forest killer would not last long. Timber exploitation for export and the establishment of forestry farms and hydroelectric dams all contributed to the rapid decrease in wild habitats. Millions of timber trees were cut down, thousands of hectares of forest land were cleared and wild animals were exterminated.
In front of Mr Hai’s house, primeval forest has become low-value timber. ‘I had to go very far in deep forest to have a chance to hunt big animals,’ he said. ‘I had to walk for several kilometres in the forest just to hunt lesser mouse deer and civet. Money still urged me to go and hunt as much as possible.’ Increased [governmental] protection of wildlife in the area caused the price of wild meat to go up, though, anyway, the wildlife was close to extinction.
Among the animals he shot, the long-tailed macaque was the wisest and most difficult to hunt even though they often moved in large troops. The long-tailed macaque populations were very well organized. The leader always stood in the tallest tree to guard its whole troop. Whenever there was a sign of danger, it immediately howled and the group would retreat rapidly. Knowing this, experienced hunters often shot the leader monkey first, then the rest could be killed easily when they became disorganised and confused.
However, if these monkeys were shot while still in the trees, it would be difficult to get their bodies because they hung on to the branches until they died. Experienced hunters only fired to scare the monkeys in the trees and then killed them when they were moving in panic. With this technique of hunting, Mr Hai was admired and called a ‘forest killer’.
‘. . . with experience only in shooting wild animals, I hardly found a job, even one as a worker. So we still had to rely on hunting for our living,’ Mr Hai said. ‘Once, after a whole night threading through the forest, I had gone very far without noticing any animal. The lamp was dim already and I realized I was lost. Enduring pouring rain, I tried to find the way back, in cold and tiredness. While my body and mind were paralysed, the images of an empty rice jar and my children . . . appeared . . . Hunting animals illegaly was so harsh, I couldn’t let my children follow my way of life.’
At about 3 a.m., the rain had stopped and he had found the trail home. Mr Hai saw a big monkey and two small ones sleeping in a tall tree. He fired and the big monkey fell some way, but its hand grasped a branch. The two other monkeys disappeared into the darkness.
Mr Hai aimed at the clinging arm of the injured monkey but noticed it was holding something close to its chest with its other hand. He looked more carefully and realised it was a baby monkey. The mother, as it was, put the baby on to a branch.
‘Suddenly, I thought of my children who perhaps were sleeping peacefully in their mother’s arms,’ he said. ‘I felt a chill all over my body, dropped the gun . . . I stood still for almost an hour feeling . . . as if I was a horrible killer. When it was nearly bright, I calmed myself and climbed the tree to take down the monkey body. The poor little monkey still held its dead mother tightly and looked at me with eyes full of fright and hatred. After burying the body of the mother monkey, I wrapped the little monkey in my coat and took it home.’
The story of Mr Hai was interrupted by a question from a young man: ‘Isn’t it the monkey that was teased by the kids this afternoon and you shouted at them?’
‘Right,’ Mr Hai said. ‘Since that dreadful night I decided to give up hunting and made a promise that I would never kill any wild animal.’
Mr Hai is still finding it difficult to make a living, but his children are working for either Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve or foreign companies. Whenever he thinks about the past, Mr Hai thanks the forest for not making his children pay for the mistakes he made.

*The same as wrote about Lygosoma angeli

By Phung My Trung*
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