Endangered species and conservation laws for Vietnam

I recently overheard someone shouted, “I accidentally ate pangolin meat!” He ate pangolin meat without knowing what a pangolin was and that it is an endangered species and trading it is illegal. This sad story made me believe that while many living in Vietnam are concerned about the preservation of endangered species they are not necessarily aware of the current status of each species under international and Vietnamese laws. I decided to take time to review the laws and explain what some of the commonly traded endangered species are in Vietnam.

Pangolin

Pangolins are cute wild animals whose appearance is similar to anteaters, but the former are covered with scales. They are the only mammals in the world with scales. And sadly, they are facing extinction if the trade of this mammal is not stopped.

Pangolins are hunted and traded because of their meat and because some people believe their flesh and scales have medicinal virtues (in particular, to heal asthma and certain types of cancer). It is reported that one specimen may be sold up to USD1,000 or more in Vietnam.

There are different species of pangolin around the world, but the species that you would meet in Vietnam is the Sunda pangolin also named Manis javanica.

This species is protected by Vietnamese law and trading it, whether of alive or parts of the body (like scales), is illegal. Vietnam, like almost all countries in the world, has become a party to the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which is today the common reference for the list of endangered species.

Vietnam penal code, passed by the National Assembly in 2015, absolutely prohibits trade in species listed in the CITES as threatened with extinction, which is the case of the pangolin. This means that the persons who might offer you to try pangolin meat or to heal your asthma with pangolin scales are criminal offenders. You should be aware that you are dealing with persons that may be arrested by the police and sentenced to jail or other kinds of sanction (like a fine). If, nevertheless, you try eating pangolin or buy the scales, the risk of jail time might not be as high as for traders, but you might still face criminal prosecution, which means arrest and fined or other sanctions depending on the circumstances of each case.

If you are offered pangolin meat or scales, my best advice is to report this information to the nearest police station.

Loris

Loris are said to be the “cutest animal in the world.” This small primate looks like a teddy bear and is also threatened with extinction. The species Nycticebus (spp.) are listed as such by the CITES and the penal code of Vietnam provides for the same prohibitions as for the pangolin.

In addition, cases of animal abuse have been reported in Southeast Asia. To defend themselves loris have a special system, they secrete an allergic substance from glands under their arms. They must raise their arms up to secrete this protective substance. Some loris had their glands cut off by their owners in order to make them look cute and inoffensive when their raise their arms up to the amusement of tourists.

Bear

You certainly have heard—if you live in Vietnam—that bear bile is traded for its supposed medicinal virtues. Two species of bear are common in Vietnam and listed in the CITES as species threatened with extinction: the Ursus thibetanus and the Helarctos malayanus. Trade in these species of bear is a criminal offense and being involved in such trade, even as a simple end consumer, is a breach in the law.

Rhinoceros

Sadly, it is now too late for rhinos in Vietnam: the last specimen is reported to have died in 2010. Vietnam used to have a decent population of wild rhinos. The disappearance of rhinos in Vietnam is mainly due to illegal hunting for the rhino horn, which is used for traditional medicine mostly in Vietnam and China. The trade of rhino or rhino body parts is also strictly prohibited in Vietnam. Under the penal code, the illegal possession of from 0.05 kg to less than 1 kilogram of rhino horn is a criminal offense that may lead to 1 to 5 years in jail.

Vietnam has set a tough legal framework to help combat species extinction. As often in this country, law enforcement might not be totally efficient. Let’s hope this column can help spread the word on protecting endangered species!