While Vietnam cultivates its industry and agribusiness, one arm of the government is looking to rescue economic development’s innocent bystanders: 882 endangered species of floral and fauna. That number is up from 161 species 20 years ago even though some of those have become extinct, including nine kinds of animals.
Coming to the aid of non-human forms of life, Vietnam’s environment department this week introduced a national strategy to create 41 new nature reserves. When and if that happens, 9% of Vietnam’s land mass and 45% of its forests will be protected — and there will be 10 biosphere reserves and 10 ASEAN heritage parks. The agency’s biodiversity master plan also calls for 23 reserves by 2030 in addition to the 148 existing ones and the 41 to be established by 2020 (accounting for nearly 3,000 square miles of land).
Vietnam does not have a good reputation with organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, partly because the country — as one of the world’s most diverse — has so much to protect. WWF and others have criticized Vietnam for not being more aggressive in combatting illegal trading of wild animals and habitat fragmentation that results from hydropower and other trappings of economic growth.
Even so, Vietnam has a passionate population of environmentalists who see biodiversity as the foundation of a green economy, a key to dealing with climate change, and a significant contributor to quality of life. They want to balance the economic dreams of Homo sapiens with the needs of other species.