The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Dalat Wildlife Raids on Twitter Today

confiscated stuffed gibbon and baby langurs

Today 100 rangers from across the province of Lam Dam came together in a coordinated raid of restaurants and shops selling protected and endangered wildlife in the Central Highlands city of Dalat, Vietnam.

Scott Roberton Ph.D, the Country Representative of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) - Vietnam Program, tweeted the progress of the city-wide raids, live on the internet via the website Twitter. The presentation is perhaps the first of its kind—allowing observers to view photos of the items confiscated by law enforcement as teams reported back from their raids.

Primates seized in the raids included a gibbon and two juvenile Douc langurs, all seized from a single restaurant.

confiscated gaur horns

Other mammals seized included pangolin, mouse deer, wild pig, Elds deer, serow, muntjac, Civet, Bamboo rats, porcupine, and 3 sets of gaur horns (classified as critically endangered in Vietnam).
Additional animals seized by authorities included monitor lizard, a croc skin, and cages of wild doves.

Today is the one-year anniversary since Vietnam’s probably last Javan Rhino was found dead in Cat Tien, with its horn removed. Vietnam is at the center of the world's illegal trade in Rhino horn.

In total 89kg of wild meat was seized today, as well as more than 100 live animals, horns/antlers and stuffed primates. A total of 19 people were arrested and numerous restaurants and shops fined.

Dalat has a previous history of major wildlife problems
confiscated crocodile skin and deer horns

The city’s central market is well known for selling souvenir bear and leopard cat claws and teeth for tourists.

On August 26, the Lam Dong Forest Protection Department (FPD) seized more than 200 kilograms of illegal wildlife meat during a raid on 12 restaurants Dalat. About two-thirds of the meat was discovered at Tu Loan Restaurant, run by Tran Phuong Ha, who also owns a zoo in Da Lat.

confiscated live bamboo rats

Subsequent raids by FPD conducted on September 1 at 17 restaurants in Lam Dam Province, just west of Dalat, turned up around 30kg of wildlife meat and 12 live wild creatures, including one leopard cat.

TV not helping

Last year the American travel show “No Reservations” caused a local uproar when the show’s presenter ate mouse deer (chevrotain), a protected wild animal, just outside Dalat. The Travel Channel advertised the restaurant on its website. After being pressed on the incident the Travel Channel later agreed to remove the recommendation from its website, and said it would not air the episode again until it was significantly edited. However, the episode has remained available for download, unedited, on iTunes for quite some time.

Read about the killing of Beckham, an elephant in Dalat, on

Photos courtesy Scott Roberton, WCS.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mui Ne Beach Gossip: Look What’s Washing Up

A couple of weeks ago Mui Ne’s midsection suffered another bout of serious erosion and lost a bit of its beachfront.

We’ve all seen what washes up on a regular basis—piles of garbage, bags and bags of old cloths, medical waste, dead animals, fruit rinds… need I say more?

This time a local property found something a bit more unusual. By all accounts, it looked like a UXO, or rather a grenade of some sort.

The local police were called, who referred the situation to the army. A few members of the army did arrive but the object in question was thrown back into the ocean – definitely not what had been expected to happen!

At the time there was genuine concern about somebody on the beach finding it and something terrible happening (if in fact it was an explosive devise).

Given the fact it was a Saturday (and the Army don’t apparently operate on weekends) it was obviously a lot faster for them to throw it back in the water and pretend to forget about it then remove it properly.

Its nobody’s fault that this object washed up where it did, whatever it was. The handling of it seems rather inappropriate however.

Look Mommy, Tommy Glows in the Dark!

There’s been much discussion in the Vietnamese media, thankfully, about the Titanium mining controversy in this province. It’s my understanding from what I’ve read, and I might not be entirely correct, that all large building projects on the coast must first have their land surveyed for mining potential. So much for a province that supposedly puts its tourism industry first.

The local papers have talked about some of the problems the mining has caused—it has brought about the delay or outright cancelation of more than one resort project.

The miners have also allegedly (according to newspapers) destroyed the water table in what was the most fragile and arid ecosystem in Southeast Asia by pumping seawater into the very limited groundwater supply. Now families must be relocated because there is no more groundwater where this has been done (and the mining covers kilometers and kilometers of coastline).

While news stories make vague references to additional pollutants, nobody ever gets specific about what these pollutants are. A search finally turned up a few things.

Titanium mining releases radiation into the environment. Specifically, the sands where titanium is found tend to also include Uranium, thorium, and radium. I don’t have any data on just how radioactive titanium sludge might be from local mining, but online sources such as the US Environmental Protection Agency seem to suggest high levels of radiation from Titanium mining wastes can be up to 450 times more radioactive than “normal” soil samples. However radioactive the mining around Mui Ne might be, I think it would be a good idea to do some testing and inform the public.

Swimming in a Milkshake

Again, most of us living in Mui ne have seen the wastewater being pumped onto the beach by a variety of resorts, bars and restaurants. Most of it is just grey water—the stuff washed out of sinks and showers. Occasionally, as I think we all know, it is raw sewage—especially the stuff that’s pumped into the bushes across the street when septic tanks get full.

Not to be outdone however is the Ca Ty River in Phan Thiet. This year—or was it last year—on two separate occasions the national newspapers posted photos of our dirty river and all the sludge floating out to the bay.

I was disgusted to find a study posted online, commissioned by the government about 5-6 years ago, of all the urban rivers along Vietnam’s coast. The study included data on coliform and ecoli counts. Counts for coliform were in the tens of millions. If I’m not mistaken, a mere 300 in many western countries is enough to shut a beach down.

This isn’t to say our beach has levels like that. There’s some distance between the Ca Ty River and Mui ne (It does probably suggest that Doi Duong Municipal Beach in Phan Thiet should be roped off). However Mui Ne should be tested immediately… and lets just say that previous anomalies in water testing at the “official” lab in Phan Thiet suggest water should be tested by an independent source outside the area.

Heads in the Sand

All of this going on and nothing being done about it. There was a National Geographic Traveler magazine article a few months that rated Mui Ne and Nha Trang as “one of the world’s worst beaches” (as thought Nha Trang and Mui Ne aren’t 6hrs apart—or any of the judges has ever even been to Vietnam). It definitely ruffled the feathers of officials in Nha Trang. They are reacting, though we can debate whether their plans help or do more harm than good. Curiously however, Binh Thuan didn’t make so much as a peep about the article. One wonders how bad the pollution has to get before we decide to do something.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mui Ne & Nha Trang Beach Hospitality Property Gossip

Many of Mui Ne's original businesses will be running to the end of their leases over the next two years. Its no surprise. Mui Ne's getting older. The prices in rent might shock however. Rumor has it that some properties will increase their monthly rent by factors of 10-12, compared to previous leases.

On to brands. One new international hotel brand is coming to Mui Ne this year. Another well-known brand is leaving.  A third is changing its name.

The City of Nha Trang is rumored to be making major changes to the beachfront that will forever alter the character of the city. Perhaps its a reaction to National Geographic. But is it a step in the right--or the wrong--direction? Goodbye Nha Trang as we knew it.

Feel free to post speculations about what I'm referring to in the comments below. I might be able to confirm one or two things if you are correct, but others will have to wait...

One I can confirm: Sankara changed management and much of the staff recently. Best wishes to the previous team and the new one. It's undoubtedly a tough transition for the new management, as Sankara, along with its neighbors, lost a big chunk of its beachfront very suddenly. Fortunately the seas have settled down so folks can catch their breath and repair damages.