Conservation programs put on hold with access denied due to spread of COVID

Biodiversity conservation projects and forest protection in the central highlands region, over the past two years, have been either delayed or suspended as travel and mass gathering activities are limited by COVID-19 prevention measures.

Conservation programs put on hold with access denied due to spread of COVID
Bui Van Tuan checks the population of primates at a park in central Vietnam. COVID-19 has negatively impacted biodiversity conservation projects in the region over the past two years. Photo courtesy of Bui Van Tuan 

Despite hosting online meetings and technical guide events, local rangers and conservationists have been unable to visit national parks and nature reserves to collect data and information from field studies among local communities in the region.

Dr Ha Thang Long, head of the Frankfurt Zoological Society in Vietnam, who researches langurs, said a number of plans had to be put on hold and no progress reports on wildlife populations at assigned national parks and reserves had been completed.

“Field surveys and forest trips for the supervision of the grey-shanked douc langurs population – one of the world's top 25 critically endangered primates, and on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC) Red List – were scheduled between May and June of 2021 in Kon Tum Province, but the plan has yet to be carried out,” he said.

Wildlife protection awareness educational programmes among ethnic groups and communities living in buffer zones of the national parks and have also not gone ahead.

“Activities around wildlife awareness education for local communities at the Son Tra Nature Reserve-based Nature Dance in Da Nang have been cancelled, and the target of hosting 10,000 visitors in 2021 has failed due to social distancing orders through the first half this year,” he explained.

Conservation programs put on hold with access denied due to spread of COVID
A grey-shanked douc langur (pygathrix cinerea) – one of the world's 25 most critically endangered primates on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC) Red List -- is snapped in the community-based grey-shanked douc langurs conservation project in Quang Nam Province. Photo courtesy of Ai Tam 

Long, who is also the founder of the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation-GreenViet, said distancing orders in provinces in the region have blocked a lot of communication between conservationists and ethnic groups including collecting information about the primates’ population from indigenous communities.

“Only online discussions and meetings have been held or phone conversations or information has been communicated by email in connection with parks and reserves. Practical or technical support for wildlife tracking devices is yet to be taken. The One Million Tree Plantation, an urban project in Hanoi, Da Nang and HCM City has also come to a halt as social distancing orders have expanded in the three cities.”

The langur researcher said a report on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the existence of wildlife species had yet to be released.

He warned that illegal hunting and logging activities at some localities in the central highlands would increase because of the number of unemployed people returning from urban areas, and local communities living around reserves and parks suffered a loss in revenue from community-based tourism and farm produce as a result of the pandemic. 

Restrictions

Conservation programs put on hold with access denied due to spread of COVID
Rangers patrol the forest at Kon Chu Rang Nature Reserve in the central highlands Gia Lai Province. The coronavirus pandemic has limited jungle trips and travels for rangers and forest protection activities. Photo courtesy of Kon Chu Rang Nature Reserve

Trinh Viet Ty, director of managing director of Kon Chu Rang Nature reserve in Gia Lai Province, said coronavirus interrupted regular patrol plans, field surveys among international experts and ethnic groups meeting.

“At least five NGO projects have been halted because foreign experts could not get to the site. Related seminars and workshops were also cancelled. Four out of 13 rangers were also home quarantined due to indirect contact with a COVID-19 infection. The remaining members of the reserve had their travel limited as social distancing orders expanded from district to district of Gia Lai Province,” Ty explained.

 

He said a wildlife supervision project and a forest protection and management project were delayed by one year, while financial funding for the other projects was still yet to be allocated.

“Only 30 per cent of the planned forest patrol has been carried out since early this year due to a manpower shortage. Now one ranger has to cover the job of two at deep jungle stations – from 6km to 15km from the reserve’s administrative centre,” he said.

He blamed the coronavirus which has scared the ethnic Ba Na people who are now avoiding outsiders. The indigenous tribes had effectively locked themselves down to avoid SARS-COV-2 infections, he said.

Conservation programs put on hold with access denied due to spread of COVID
Barriers block the main gate of Kon Von 2 Village in KBang District in Gia Lai Province. The ethnic Ba Na group have closed all entrances to prevent COVID-19 from entering the villages. Photo courtesy of Kon Chu Rang Nature Reserve

Two communities in particular – Hlam Village in Son Lang Commune and Kon Von Village of Dak Rong Commune in KBang District – have blocked their villages from outsiders.

“Village gates are blocked with fences. Strangers and people from other areas are prohibited from entering. Only resident villagers are allowed,” he said, saying only 50 per cent of the reserve’s staff had been vaccinated.   

The director said 50-metre towers and drones had been used to continue monitoring the forest where possible along with biodiversity supervision smartphone apps.

Biologist Bui Van Tuan said lockdown zones at some localities in the region forced his primates supervision plan to be extended to two years instead of six months.

He said transport interruptions also delayed field trips into the jungle from two to three months.  

Long also said online meetings and digital applications were needed to promote communication in the case of pandemic interruptions that might occur in the future.

Equipment and financial funding for biodiversity conservation projects should be a priority in the post coronavirus period, he added.

Source: Vietnam News

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