Logging and poaching have devastated the Khe Nuoc Trong forest but environmentalists and local communities are fighting back, with the help of The Body Shop.
This place is a treasure trove of very rare animals.
Roger Wilson, director of conservation at the World Land Trust
There’s a party going on high in the canopy of a Vietnamese rainforest. Thirty or perhaps 40 red-shanked doucs, an extended family of this endangered species, are monkeying around in the primitive Khe Nuoc Trong region.
It’s the end of the breeding season, and the adult doucs are tending to their young deep in the lush Annamese lowland forest. It’s an amazing sight, even for local conservationist Pham Tuan Anh.
Kind-hearted humans, such as Pham, don’t often get the chance to observe red-shanked duocs. “They’re moving,” she says excitedly, peering through her binoculars. “They’re jumping!”
The sad reality, Pham says, is that the smallest red-shanked duocs here are not guaranteed to have a long and happy life. Poachers hunt them for food or Chinese medicine, and illegal logging and land clearing have degraded their habitat, which was strafed by Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Another endangered native species in this north central Vietnam rainforest is the saola, one of the world’s rarest and least-studied mammals. The antelope-like saola, known as the “Asian unicorn”, was only discovered in 1992 and none has been seen since 2014. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates less than 250 saolas are left. “Saola numbers may in fact be so low and dispersed that no viable populations remain,” it says.
Pham describes Khe Nuoc Trong as a "hidden beauty, a sleeping beauty". She says Vietnam is only now coming to understand the true virtues of conservation. "It was just introduced in the late '80s, early '90s by international conservation groups,” she says. “When many people think about the forest they still think about the timber only.”
Pham is the president and deputy director of Viet Nature, which is working with The Body Shop and not-for-profit World Land Trust to safeguard the valuable natural resources in Vietnam’s Quang Binh Province. The overarching project launched in June 2016, the Bio-Bridges initiative, aims to protect 75 million square metres of forest in biodiversity hotspots – including Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia – by 2020.
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The Vietnamese “bio-bridge” refers to the wildlife corridor between the Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserve and the Phong Na-Ke Bang National Park. The idea is to create a “safe zone” connecting isolated habitats, enabling species and local communities to survive and thrive independently. Viet Nature’s ultimate aim is to turn Khe Nuoc Trong into a national park.
With The Body Shop saving 1 square metre of habitat with every transaction it does across the globe, more than 11 million square metres of the Khe Nuoc Trong have already been protected and restored.
“This place is a treasure trove of very rare animals,” says Roger Wilson, director of conservation at the World Land Trust. “There are 38 species which are globally threatened in some sense, and this is one of the best places for them.”
As well as the red-shanked duoc and saola, the area is home to the rare Bengal slow loris, Annamite striped rabbit and Burmese python, and other endangered birds, amphibians, reptiles and plant species.
The poor local communities that have relied on the forest for their livelihoods for centuries have been complicit in its destruction. With limited options to raise money, locals fall prey to the lure of poachers and loggers, not fully understanding the long-term damage these illegal activities have on their environment.
Jessie Macneil-Brown, the senior manager of international campaigns and corporate responsibility at The Body Shop, says working with local communities is the key to making ethical and sustainable projects such as the Bio-Bridges initiative successful. She says it’s particularly important to take local cultural sensitivities into account.
“That forest is integral to their lives,” Macneil-Brown says. “We can’t just go in there and say ‘What you’re doing is wrong’. They have a lot of external pressures. That’s why having local partners like Viet Nature is so fantastic with this project. They know the communities inside out; they know the people well.”
Khe Nuoc Trong, Vietnam
As part of the initiative, The Body Shop supports local projects and looks for ways that communities can live sustainably. In Vietnam, it has commissioned a study to see what locals are harvesting, taking to market, using in beauty regimes and growing in gardens. If an opportunity exists, The Body Shop will look to set up local operations and create products that can be sold globally.
“We’re looking at livelihoods but also raising awareness,” Macneil-Brown says. “We’ll start to engage with local restaurants as well. We want to work with them to stop the illegal poaching and killing of these beautiful creatures.”
The Body Shop, which aims to be the most ethical and sustainable global business, is determined to find success with the Bio-Bridges project. It has plans to spread the concept to other countries in the future, as well.
“What we have set about to do is hugely ambitious,” Macneil-Brown says. “For us at The Body Shop, if we’re not the most ambitious, then what’s the point?”
The Body Shop’s Australian customers can participate in the Bio-Bridges project and help protect some of the world’s most endangered species. Each customer who buys a pre-made gift protects 1 square metre of habitat in a biodiversity danger zone. Funds will be split between the three projects, with 58 per cent going to Vietnam and 21 per cent each to Indonesia and Malaysia.
In celebration of our 40th anniversary and life-long dedication to campaigning against animal testing, this year we’re foregoing the mistletoe and mince pies to bring you our fiercest festive celebration to date.
For every pre-made gift you buy this Christmas, we’ll help protect endangered creatures and restore 1 square metre of rainforest. And with gifts from $5 to $199, there’s something everyone will go wild for.