Dieu Long used to be one of the most notorious illegal loggers in the southern province of Binh Phuoc.
He joined a gang of illegal loggers at the age of 15 to hunt wild animals or chop down trees in Bu Gia Map National Park.
But now, ironically, Long is one of the most dedicated rangers in the park. His years of experience as an illegal logger has contributed to forest protection efforts.
20 years of deforestation
Long, who is now 49, said he spent 20 years working as an illegal logger, so he had memorised every path and corner of the national park.
Long was born into a poor family in Bu Gia Map Commune. He quit school when he was in second grade, and spent most of his childhood at home helping with family chores.
When he was 15, he joined a local logging gang with the promise of earning good money.
Long said he could not remember how many days he and his gang swept through the forest, even in the core and buffer zones.
The forest had become so familiar he knew exactly where to find monkeys, elephants and bison, and where precious rare trees grew.
“I was hired to destroy forests so crops could be planted to start with, but then I saw people buying rare trees to build houses. That's when I switched to logging precious trees to get more money,” he told Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper.
Trees such as rosewood, sandalwood and redwood earned him a lot of money, which he spent mostly on drinking.
Long said he might have been the luckiest illegal logger alive as was never been caught by the police.
This was all thanks to his knowledge of the forest.
“There were many times when I was just metres away from the rangers, but I managed to escape. I even observed their patrols for weeks to avoid getting caught.”
“Many people from my gang were arrested,” he said.
Long recalled the day he avoided capture years ago. He had to stay in the forest for a whole day and night, suffering from cold and hunger to avoid being detected.
Atoning for his sins
Long said he remembered how diversified the forest was when he was small. That same forest has since been destroyed and the number of wild animals has become fewer and fewer.
The days of running and hiding from police, and witnessing his fellow gang members being put in jail, made him decide to stop in 2006.
Long wanted another job, but he found that being in the forest was his only desire.
Six months later, Long took a risk and met Dieu Han, a ranger at Bu Gia Map National Park, to ask for a job as a ranger.
With help from Han, Long was given a job. He was assigned to patrol the forest every ten days to stop deforestation. He was paid between VND8-10 million (US$345-432) every three months.
Now, Long has a stable job with a stable life. He has six children, a house, and one hectare of cashew nuts.
Vuong Duc Hoa, director of the national park, said Long had contributed to forest protection efforts and encouraged local people to get involved.
Currently, more than 25,600 hectares of forest has been assigned to local people to protect.
Bu Gia Map covers more than 25,600 hectares with many rare plants and animals.
In the past ten years, the number of deforestation cases has reportedly decreased. In 2018 and 2019, only 20 small cases were uncovered. VNS
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