Posted on 08 July 2016
Nguyen Huu Hoa was once a "forest intruder," but is now an award-winning forest guard.
You could say that the bridge between Nguyen Huu Hoa’s former life as a “lam tac” or “forest intruder,” and his life now as a senior forest guard, was built from bamboo.
As a young man growing up in the Annamite forests of Vietnam’s Thua Thien Hue province, Hoa, like the many other young men in his village, would venture deep into the woods to harvest bamboo and rattan for his family. What set him apart from some of the other young men however, was his compassion for animals.
“When I went into the forest to collect bamboo, I often saw animals caught in snares, injured and dying or already dead. They were helpless and I felt sad that I could not do anything for them,” he recalled.
In time, it occurred to Hoa that maybe there was something he could do, and that to do it, he first had to go study agriculture and forestry. He did, and upon graduation joined the forest guard team that WWF had helped set up in his home province, in what is now the Thua Thein Hue Saola Nature Reserve. That was back in 2011 and Hoa was since appointed team leader of Forest Guard Team No. 1.
Now, instead of going after bamboo and rattan, he and his team members are removing snares and helping the animals trapped in them. “I can’t remember how many animals we saved,” Hoa said, “too many to keep track of.” But every time the team found and freed a trapped animal, “we were saving its life and we just wanted to applaud as the animal ran off into the forest,” he added.
Hoa may not have been able to keep track of all the animals in the menagerie: grey-shanked douc languor, serows (a type of goat), macaques, ferret badgers and even big-headed turtles among them, that he and his team saved.
But others were keeping track.
In 2015 he received a phone call from ENV – Vietnam’s first officially recognized conservation NGO – informing him that he had won the organization’s Dedication for Wildlife Protection Award that year.
Hoa was on patrol with his team when the news reached him and he was flabbergasted. “I had known nothing about this award,” he said. His supervisor and other colleagues had quietly prepared all the supporting materials and nominated him.
Since finding his calling as a forest guard, Hoa has married and started his own family, but he turns shy when asked about it. “I spend 22 days a month in the forest and eight days at home, so all I want to do when getting back home is to help my family,” he offered. He confesses, however, that he does not always tell his wife about the hardships and risks he and his team face while on patrol – living in the wild, and facing flash floods caused by sudden torrential rainfall while coping with armed poachers who are not clearly not pleased when the animals caught in their traps are sprung. “My family is concerned for my safety… so my best policy is telling them that everything is fine,” he says.
Of course, everything is not fine – yet. But Hoa is convinced things are getting there. “I see less traps now than when I first started the job, so I know our efforts are having real impacts,” he says, adding, “this is a wonderful job.”