Director of Save Vietnam's Wildlife (SVW) Nguyễn Văn Thái has become the first Vietnamese wildlife conservationist and the only Asian to receive the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize the world’s most prestigious award for grassroots environmental activists. The Prize honours grassroots environmental heroes from the world’s six inhabited continental regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America South and Central America. The Prize, worth US$ 200,000, recognises individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk.
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái - Director of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife
MOTIVATION FOR WILDLIFE CONSERVATION
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái was given the Award at a virtual ceremony, which took place on June 15th 2021 for his contribution to rescuing 1,540 pangolins from the illegal wildlife trade between 2014 and 2020 and establishing Việt Nam’s first anti-poaching team under the co-management of SVW - a local non-Governmental organisation and the Government since 2018. The team has destroyed 9,701 animal traps, dismantled 775 illegal camps, confiscated 78 guns and arrested 558 poachers between June 2018 and December 2020, leading to a significant decline in illegal poaching in Pù Mát National Park in Nghệ An Province.
In 2016, Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái opened the Carnivore and Pangolin Education Centre, the first of its kind in Việt Nam, in order to provide wildlife conservation courses to local children and the general public. He also gives training courses to customs officials, border guards and forest rangers on wildlife laws and how to prop-erly care for seized pangolins. As a result, nearly 8,200 children living in the buffer zone of Cúc Phương National Park have been inspired in wildlife conservation so far. About 2,500 Law enforcement officers have been given training courses on wildlife conservation.
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái said: “I am also very proud to be the first Vietnamese working in the field of wildlife protection to receive the Award. This is the biggest prize I have received in my life so far”. Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái planned to spend the money on the conservation of pangolins and wildlife in the future. The Award was recognition for his tireless efforts in protecting wildlife.
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái grew up near Cúc Phương National Park in the Northern Province of Ninh Bình. When he was a child, he witnessed a mother and baby pangolin being caught and killed by people in his village. “Therefore, I decided to make pangolin conservation my life’s work”, he said. He applied to study Forest Protection and Management at the Forestry University in 2001 - 2005. Five years later, he went to the United Kingdom for a six-month course on wildlife conservation management in 2010. Then he studied for a master's degree in wildlife conservation at the National University of Australia in 2012.
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái said, in 2014, when he set up SVW - a centre to secure a future for Vietnamese wildlife, he realised that most of the wildlife conservation activities were momentary and short-term. Most projects to conserve wildlife at that time were carried out under the sponsorship of international organisations, he added. Thus, he decided to establish the Centre to Save Việt Nam’s wildlife in the long-term.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái said in recent years, pangolins had become more known, so many people in the community started taking action to protect the species. “It is one of the advantages”, he said. Another advantage was he could combine his understanding of Vietnamese people in wildlife consumption and the knowledge he learned from international training courses and conferences for conservation, he said.
Talking about the disadvantages, Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái said building an operating mechanism for a non-profit organisation in Việt Nam was a challenge, while there were not many guidelines as well as lessons in management and administration. Additionally, worrying about funds to implement wildlife conservation activities was also a challenge, he said. “The habit of consuming wild animals is deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture, so changing their habit is a really hard and long-term task”, he added. Moreover, the participation of nonprofit organisations in wildlife conservation had not yet received much attention from State management agencies as expected, he said.
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái was given the Award for his contribution to rescuing 1,540 pagonlins from the illegal wildlife trade (2014 - 2020)
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thái plans to grow the model of wildlife conservation, carried out by SVW, to many national parks across the country. He also wanted to contribute to the amendment of some legal documents, making use of wild animals a prohibited act and strongly condemning and sanctioning violators, he said. We would also attract more businesses and individuals to contribute to wildlife and biodiversity conservation in Việt Nam in the future, he added.
“One person cannot protect wildlife, one organisation cannot protect wildlife, but all of us can. We need everyone to protect wildlife", he said.
(Source: Vietnam Environment Administration Magazine, English Edition II - 2021)