Threats to Biodiversity
Vietnam's natural resources and biodiversity are currently under severe stress. The root cause of these pressures resides in a large and growing population coupled with a continuing dependence on natural resource conversion and exploitation. Pressures on Vietnam's tropical and sub-tropical forests include high demand for fuel wood for cooking, heating and charcoal production; conversion of land to agriculture; overgrazing and fires; and both official and illegal logging (WCMC, 1994; MacKinnon, 1997). Previous wars have also degraded Vietnam's forests, particularly the delta mangrove communities. In addition to timber, direct exploitation of forests resources includes the collection of medicinal plants and hunting for both subsistence and the wildlife trade. The sustainability of this exploitation has been reduced by forest fragmentation and degradation and by the increasing commercialization of the wildlife trade, in particular export to China (Compton & Quang, 1998). Finally, it is likely that Vietnam's economic outlook will become increasingly global following the recent Bilateral Trade Agreement with the United States; the effect of a developing international economy on natural resource exploitation is not yet clear.
As a consequence of these pressures, Vietnam's natural forests have been reduced and fragmented. Current estimates of closed canopy forest cover (including mangroves) vary from 17.4 to 27.5% of the total land area, of which only one-tenth is likely still in pristine condition (Collins, Sayer & Whitmore, 1991; Wege, et al., 1999). Most of this deforestation is currently concentrated in lowland areas of the north and south. However, continued population growth and migration into higher elevation areas in central Vietnam (e.g., the Central Highlands) threatens these relatively intact forests through increased agricultural conversion and resource exploitation (WCMC, 1994). Consequences of deforestation include increased flooding, erosion and susceptibility to typhoon damage in coastal areas (Collins, Sayer, & Whitmore, 1991). Fragmentation and degradation directly affect the ability of the forests to support biodiversity, causing a decline in plant resources and wildlife. Additionally, the ecosystem-wide impact of reduced or locally extinct populations of heavily-exploited large-bodied species (e.g., tiger, elephants, gaur) is unknown (Wikramanayake, et al., 2002).
The combination of habitat loss, fragmentation and exploitation directly threatens the survival of Vietnam's biodiversity. Among vertebrates, bird and mammal extinction rates are estimated to be 100 to 1000 times greater than under natural conditions; similar rates for plants can be expected (WCMC, 1994).
The Protected Area System
Vietnam's conservation efforts date back approximately 40 years to 1962, when Ho Chi Minh set aside the country's first national park, Cuc Phuong in Ninh Binh Province, 140 kilometers southwest of Hanoi. But war and its effects on the human population and the economy delayed further development of an extensive reserve system. At present, a system of 90 protected areas cover approximately 4% of the land area; of these, most are small, isolated, and lack adequate buffer zones. Financial issues, a shortage of trained field staff and managers, and local resource issues have limited the effectiveness of the system.
To protect the country's remaining biotic diversity, the government of Vietnam recently decided to increase the size of the terrestrial protected area system to include 6% of the total land area. Recommendations for expanding the system include removing non-forested areas currently classified as Special-use Forests (protected areas); emphasizing currently under-represented ecosystems (e.g., low elevation Annamite Range Moist Forests); and recognizing the importance of both trans-province and trans-boundary protected areas to national and regional conservation (Wege, et al., 1999; Baltzer, Dao & Shore, 2001). Making these decisions wisely requires detailed, reliable information on plant and animal populations, on the status and effectiveness of existing reserves, and on the function of new ones.
Currently the biodiversity of many of these areas is too poorly known for conservation decisions to be made and subsequently monitored effectively. These surveys and inventory lists are part of a response by the CBC and AMNH, their partner institutions and additional conservation organizations to this need. A shared aim of the collaborators is to conduct in-depth and comparative studies of the flora and fauna in currently unprotected areas experiencing high threats to their biotic diversity. From this initial research it is hoped that scientifically sound recommendations will emerge, and that these results can have a significant impact on conservation planning.
Baltzer, M.C., Nguyen This Dao, and R.G. Shore, comps. 2001. "Towards a Vision for Biodiversity Conservation in the Forests of the Lower Mekong Ecoregion Complex." World Wide Fund for Nature Indochina/World Wide Fund for Nature USA, Hanoi and Washington, D.C.
Collins, N. M., J.A. Sayer, and T.C. Whitmore, eds. 1991. The Conservation Atlas of Tropical Forests: Asia and the Pacific. Simon and Schuster, New York.
Compton, J., and Le Hai Quang, comps. 1998. "Borderline: An Assessment of Wildlife Trade in Vietnam." World Wide Fund for Nature Indochina Programme, Hanoi.
MacKinnon, J. 1997, ed. "Protected Areas Systems Review of the Indo-Malayan Realm." Asian Bureau for Conservation, Canterbury.
Wege, D.C., A.J. Long, Mai Ky Vinh, Vu Van Dung, and J.C. Eames. 1999. "Expanding The Protected Areas Network In Vietnam For The 21st Century: An Analysis Of The Current System With Recommendations For Equitable Expansion." BirdLife International Vietnam Programme, Hanoi.
Wikramanayake, E., E. Dinerstein, C.J. Loucks, D.M. Olson, J. Morrison, J. Lamoreux, M. McKnight, and P. Hedao. 2002. Terrestrial Ecoregions of the Indo-Pacific: A Conservation Assessment. Island Press, Washington, D.C.
World Conservation Monitoring Centre, comp. 1994. Biodiversity Profile of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Retrieved June 27, 2001 from http://www.unep-wcmc.org/infoserv/countryp/vietnam/.