Cát Tiên’s Natural Beauty

“Report against wildlife trading. Protect and preserve Vietnam’s amazing UNESCO Biosphere Reserve” says environmental scientist Leander Kruger

By Leander Rene Kruger, June 01, 2017

A visit to Vietnam’s Cát Tiên National Park reveals the true natural beauty of the country. Situated 160 km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, it is not only a tourist destination but a welcome retreat for those living the big city life.

Author Leander Kruger at the base of the 400-year-old Tung tree (Tetrameles nudiflora) 

The park spanning an area of 71,920 hectares, has two parts: the Nam Cát Tiên where the national parks headquarters is located and the Cat Loc area to the north, which is less visited.

The two parts are separated from each other through human settlements and agriculture.

A diversity of species and habitats

Cát Tiên is one of Vietnam’s most important and largest national parks boasting a diversity of species and habitats.  The fauna includes 105 listed mammal species, 351 species of birds, more than 120 reptile and amphibian species and more than 130 freshwater fish species. In its latest update of records on January 24 this year, Cát Tiên National Park recorded nearly 460 species of butterflies along with other fascinating insects.

Some parts of the park were impacted by toxic herbicides such as Agent Orange sprayed during the wars between 1961 and 1971. It is remarkable how well the ecosystem has recovered.

The park currently contains 1,610 plant species. It is noticeable though that there is a lack of large trees. There are some impressively old ones but not as many as one would have thought.

A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Adult and infant Silver Langurs

Established in 1992, Nam Cát Tiên National Park was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2001. Extended in 2011 under the name ‘Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve’, the park gives importance to both conservation and sustainable development. In an article titled ‘Ethnic Minorities And Collaborative Forest Management: A Case From Vietnam’ published in the Asian Academic Research Journal of Multidisciplinary, May 2015, authors T S Dinh, N Sato and O Kazuo state that approximately 60-80% of residents

depend on forest resources in this Reserve.

Nam Cát Tiên national park forms the core zone within the Biosphere Reserve, where biodiversity conservation, monitoring and research are key activities. The buffer zone surrounding, the core zone, inhabited by humans, is designated for sustainable resource management, eco-tourism, research, education and training -  activities that aim to have a minimum impact on the protected area.

Places to stay in Nam Cát Tiên

I visited Nam Cát Tiên national park at the end of October 2016. Accommodation in the vicinity is not hard to find. I found my cozy refuge at the Green Bamboo Lodge on the banks of the Dong Nai River - the boundary between civilization and the protected area. I stayed for three nights. I had such a great time, I should have stayed longer. 

The Cruiser (Vindula erota)

Green dragontail (Lamproptera meges) with transparent wing sections

About half way to the lake, incredible in size, an ancient Tung tree (Tetrameles nudiflora) approximated to be 400 years old with huge buttress roots, appeared right in front of me.  Finally, arriving at the lake, I climbed on to and relaxed on a viewing platform, observing Siamese Crocodiles catching fish, as herons flew by.

The second day, I visited the Endangered Primate Species Centre located on Dao Tien Island on the Dong Nai river.  This primate rescue, rehabilitation, and release centre which opened in 2008, deals with Golden-Cheeked Gibbons (Nomascus gabriellae), Black-shanked Douc Langur (Pygathrix nigripes), Silvered Langur (Trachypithecus margarita) and Pygmy Loris(Nycticebus pygmaeus).

The Common Jay (Graphium doson)

Touring the Biosphere Reserve

Each morning, I woke up to gibbons calling out. My room was next to the river, the park is across it, a short ferry ride away. One can also stay in a lodge in the park itself.  At breakfast time, I listened to the sounds of the rainforest.

The first day, from a multitude of activities, I chose to rent a bicycle and traversed 28 km, to and fro, along Crocodile Lake - 9 km by bike and 5 km walking. I passed the Haven Rapids - an energetic cascade from May to November, the rainy season, when about 300mm of rain falls per month. Unusual as it may seem for a national park, completely opposed to what one might expect, the path is concreted . The majority of the rainforest was flooded, so walking off the road was near impossible.  

The incredible diversity of butterflies immediately struck my attention! Past every corner, a new one, more beautiful than the ones seen before. Birds were more often heard than seen, but I spotted the incredible Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus), Pompadour green pigeon(Treron pompadora phayrei), various parrots, Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) and Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris), just to name a few. 

 I was lucky to observe a group of endangered Black-shanked Douc Langurs. Unfortunately, the animals were too far away for a good photo. On the path to Crocodile Lake, something that moved beside me caught my attention.  A vine snake had just caught a lizard in a tree.

Black shanked Douc Langur

In Vietnam, primates are hunted for food, traditional medicine and for the illegal wildlife trade, the last of which is a thriving business. Many more wildlife than just primates are captured. Rehabilitated animals are released back either into Cát Tiên National Park itself or into other protected areas in Vietnam.

Rehabilitated at the Endangered Primate Species Centre

Golden-cheeked Gibbon

Male and female pygmy loris rescued from illegal trade.

Report against wildlife trading

Toll free number: 1800 1522

ENV - Report Wildlife Crime


Cat Tien National Park: www.namcattien.org

Endangered Primate Species Centre: www.go-east.org

Education for Nature - Vietnam (ENV): www.envietnam.org

My firm belief is that tourists of the national park can help tip the balance against illegal wildlife hunting and trade if they know where to submit a report if it comes to their attention. One such local NGO is Education for Nature - Vietnam (ENV) that closely collaborates with Vietnamese authorities to confiscate and rescue wild animals and animal

products which are sold or shown in restaurants, markets, hotels, and during tourist tours. A toll-free hotline number, an app and an online document are available to make a report.

Bau Sau - the wetland and seasonal floodplain

The Crocodile Lake and wetland system deep inside Cat Tien’s Rainforest

Bau Sau (crocodile lake) is a wetland and seasonal floodplain located in the center of the Nam Cát Tiên. It has additional protection through the international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Bau Sau is a key habitat for very rare and critically endangered species such as the Siamese Crocodile - reintroduced in the year 2000 - the ONLY place in Vietnam to discover them in the wild, the endangered Asian Elephant, endangered Black-shanked Douc Langur, endangered Red-cheeked Gibbon, the Gaur (also known as Indian Bison) and the Smooth-coated Otter.

The critically endangered Siamese crocodile

Ethnic minorities and sustainable ecological development

Smooth-coated Otter found in the park’s wetland systems

Around 2,000 people live in the core zone and 200,000 people in the buffer zone. In their article on ‘Livelihoods and Local Ecological Knowledge in Cat Tien Biosphere Reserve’ published in InTech (March 14, 2012) D T Sang, H Kimihiko and O Kazuo document indigenous ethnic minorities, migrant ethnic minorities and the Kinh people as residents of this area before 1975. Socioeconomic development projects supporting biodiversity conservation - that is, community-based ecotourism, payment programmes

for forest protection and environmental services where households get subsidies for participation, as well as forestland allocation programmes - were implemented in the past.

Pushing collaborative management further

Despite efforts, authors Dinh, Sato and Kazuo in their 2015 article say that degradation and biodiversity loss in the Reserve remain a lamentable fact. Encroachment on forest land, illegal logging, poaching for meat and illegal wildlife trade all endanger the Reserve’s biodiversity.

Installing irrigation for rice plantations, agro-forestry systems, securing firewood and increasing green cover by introducing fast growing species on bare lands could take pressure off the forest’s resources.

Local communities are participating in the decision-making, planning, management and functioning of the socioeconomic development projects, built on a collaborative management approach. Sang and his co-authors assert that more such projects are required to benefit humans living in Nam Cát Tiên.

The Gaur, the largest species of wild cattle in Nam Cát Tiên National Park 

Asian Elephants encountered most in the south-west areas of the park 

Increased participation of local communities in decision-making should be a priority.

Ecotourism, collaboration-based cash crop plantation for cashew, cassava and bamboo plus imparting training and promotion of indigenous craft products help create long-term employment for the local workforce, state the authors of the InTech article (March 14, 2012).

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in 2015 forecasted that the direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP will rise by 6.6% yearly, from 2015 to 2025, to VND370,902.0 billion (4.8% of total GDP) in 2025.  As tourists, I believe, we have an obligation to inform ourselves before travelling, to understand and know how we can contribute towards sustainable development and act as responsible tourists.

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