Mainland Southeast Asia
Mainland Southeast Asia harbors a significant proportion of the world's rare and endemic species, including several species of hoofed mammals, rodents, and birds that have only recently been described by scientists. The country of Vietnam is at a critical juncture in its efforts to study and conserve its rich diversity of plants and animals, as many species are threatened or endangered by some of the world's fastest rates of both human population growth and deforestation. In the 1990s, the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development recommended that the forested area within the National Protected Area System be increased from 1.3 million to two million hectares.
In 1998, the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC) initiated a research program in Vietnam that has informed the government's decisions concerning the location and expansion of protected forest areas. The project — with participation from across the American Museum of Natural History's zoological and anthropological departments as well as the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (IEBR) in Hanoi, the World Wildlife Fund's Greater Mekong Programme, and BirdLife International's Vietnam Programme — is unprecedented for its degree of collaboration among research institutions, the variety of scientific disciplines involved, and the immediacy with which research results are being translated into conservation action.
Over the course of eight field seasons, the CBC scientific team has discovered new species of amphibians, small mammals, invertebrates and birds, improving our understanding of Vietnam's biodiversity. In 2000, using self-triggering "camera traps," CBC-trained Vietnamese scientists confirmed the existence of a species of otter thought to have been extinct in Vietnam for several decades. The CBC team has also mapped the distribution of biodiversity in several proposed protected areas, and worked with people living near these sites to study resource use.
In the fall of 2005, Biodiversity Specialist for Herpetology Raoul Bain, along with our in-country partners IEBR and WWF Indochina, completed a survey in Thua-Thien-Huế Province to assess priority areas for conservation in a "green corridor" connecting Bach Ma National Park to Phong Dien Proposed Nature Reserve. They recorded eight threatened species and several new amphibian records. During the survey, the team interviewed local hunters and directly identified and mapped trade routes for illegal hunting and logging. Preliminary results were presented to the Director of the Forest Protection Department of Thua-Thien-Huế, who plans to incorporate their suggestions into the province's conservation plan.
The CBC continues to offer in-country training for conservation specialists in the use of biodiversity informatics techniques — tools critical for assessing Vietnam's highly fragmented but globally significant habitats. In spring 2006, staff of the CBC and Vermont's Gund Institute conducted a workshop on watershed modeling for the Song Bung IV dam that will be constructed in Quang Nam Province. The workshop brought together 34 participants from across Vietnam and included members of government agencies, NGOs, and universities. All materials were translated into Vietnamese and distributed throughout the region. In spring 2007 the CBC held workshops on conservation monitoring as part of its MacArthur initiative in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and Lao PDR. The workshop participants included conservation staff from the forest protection department in each country, as well as conservation non-governmental organizations, and universities.
Spring 2006 marked the publication of the award-winning book Vietnam: A Natural History by Yale University Press. Authored by CBC Director Dr. Eleanor J. Sterling along with CBC scientists Drs. Martha M. Hurley and Le Duc Minh, this is the first book geared toward a general audience that summarizes recent research of Vietnam's wildlife and wildlands. The Vietnamese version of the book was published by Lotus Press in spring 2007, and has been distributed to libraries, conservation organizations, and professionals throughout Vietnam, and will also be available at local bookstores.
CBC's Vietnam program is continuing to improve access to resources about Vietnam's biodiversity through the Mainland Southeast Asia Conservation Library. Highlights and recommendations from our 2003 symposium Tiger in the Forest: Sustainable Nature-Based Tourism in Mainland Southeast Asia are also available online. This symposium provided a forum to explore ways to address the needs of unique and fragile ecosystems through the economic and conservation potential of ecotourism. Research results from CBC efforts in Vietnam are available online as well, and finally, the CBC's photographic exhibition, Discovering Vietnam's Biodiversity, brings the incredible diversity of animals and plants in Vietnam to a broad audience.