Changing ways

Efforts are underway in Nam Cat Tien National Park to provide an alternative to hunting for local people to live sustainably.

By Thai A on October 17,2017 11:34 AM

Changing ways

photo: Thai A

Ecotourism has become one of the most effective means of providing livelihoods for local people, sharing the benefits and managing natural resources, and has recently been introduced and promoted in protected areas.

When leading a group of tourists along a path far into the forest, a girl from the S’Tieng ethnic minority people gave them a big surprise by speaking Vietnamese, English, and some French and Chinese.

The tourists were even more surprised to see how the local women prepared a meal for them at their traditional long house. Though they live next to Nam Cat Tien National Park in southern Dong Nai province, the local people can make Western dishes such as cream soup, BBQ chops, and potato gratin, just like professional chefs at luxury hotels.

The light from a stove fire broke the jungle darkness, illuminating a long tent covering a long table with plates and other utensils arranged in a European way that was inviting for the visitors, especially those who were tired and hungry after a long walk through the forest to explore the pristine features of the area, recognised as the greatest biodiversity area in southern Vietnam.

This all happened during a forest conservation program jointly organised by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Caphex , and the Cat Tien National Park Management Board. Over the last few years, not only WWF but also other NGOs have worked together on a conservation policy that prohibits all nature-destroying activities and at the same time makes it possible for local people to earn a living.

Nam Cat Tien National Park was declared a global Biosphere Reserve Zone by UNESCO in 2001 and has been listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance since 2005. The national park is facing pressure, however, from the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, especially by people living within its buffer zones. (Source: WWF Vietnam)

Tourist services like accommodation and tours have been introduced so that local people around Nam Cat Tien National Park can have stable livelihoods, encouraging them away from their deep-seated practice of hunting.

From that point of view, the accommodation facilities are organised in an environmentally-friendly way that impresses visitors. A good example is the accommodation called nha dai (long house) in Ta Lai commune in Tan Phu district.

For thousands of years, this area has been home to the Chau Ma and S’Tieng ethnic minority peoples, who have depended heavily on the jungle for their needs. Some of their activities, however, have negatively affected the source of the genes of local animals and plants.

To cope with the situation, WWF-Vietnam has long made significant efforts to promote conservation programs, making local people fully aware of their devastating practices and helping them learn how to protect the jungle resources.

One of the projects is to develop ecotourism in Cat Tien National Park, providing great accommodation amid the pristine jungle. It serves as a starting point for such activities as forest trips and kayaking on the river.

Made from bamboo, the long house looks simple but is clean and green and can accommodate 30 guests at a time, with power from solar energy. Outdoors, everyone sips cups of tea while chatting with tour guides or the Ta Lai villagers working in the project.

Changing ways

In addition to visits to the forest and villagers’ houses during the day, visitors are also provided with a delicious meal on a carpet of grass outdoors and then a gong music show performed by the local music group.

Set up by volunteers, the long house not only serves as a place for accommodation, in the homestay model, but is also a place for local people to work together to provide tourist services and share the profits and benefits.

WWF and the other NGOs have tried to provide local people with a sustainable means of living, gradually making it possible for them to earn a livelihood without damaging the jungle. Part of the revenue from the long house accommodation is sent to the community development fund managed by commune authorities and is used to help poor families improve their business activities and earnings in a sustainable manner.

Ecotourism is gradually being introduced to national parks, nature reserves and landscape protection sites in Vietnam. Developing ecotourism aims to bring significant benefits to local communities and to contribute effectively to nature and biodiversity conservation. However, tourism can have negative impacts on the environment in the protected areas if the management process is not effective. (Source: WWF Vietnam)

The programs and support are intended to make local people fully aware of conservation and sustainable tourism development. Measures introduced by WWF-Vietnam and conducted by the Caphex Company and local people have created an invisible but very effective protective layer around the national park.

Such conservation activities have not only resulted in positive effects in Vietnam, as experts said that similar programs have had a positive effect in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Peru, Chile, and South Africa, encouraging local people to earn a sustainable living rather than simply prohibiting them from killing wild animals.

Although the last rhino in Nam Cat Tien National Park has been killed and the core area of the jungle has been damaged in many ways, the forest is still a significant place where a variety of animals and plants can be found.

Visitors will appreciate the concerted efforts made by the long house staff and other individuals and organisations as they wander under 300-year-old trees, watch peacocks dance, see freshwater crocodiles, or listen to the gibbons calling one another in the trees.

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