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Ant harvesting – collecting food for pangolins

Collecting ant nests

Newly rescue pangolins often refuse to eat artificial food, therefore, we have to collect live ants from the buffer zone of Cuc Phuong National Park to encourage them to eat, speeding their recovery.

Collecting ants can be both a hard and easy task! It’s so lucky if the weather is nice and we can find ant nets. However, our job will become impossible if house owners don’t allow us to enter their garden. We often visit gardens that have fruit trees, such as longan, lychee, and mangos because ants often build their nests in these branches.

Today, we started collecting ants at 7 am. The weather seems quite nice, so we hope to collect ants more than usual for pangolins. 10 kilometers sounds a short way, however, moving in this mountainous area is not easy. Luckily, we are familiar with this area so it doesn’t take us so long to reach villages. We are quite lucky to find a house with a big garden. The house owner is an elderly lady, who agrees to help us. She asks us what the ants are used for and shared her story of a pangolin sighting from when she was a little girl. A lot of legends exist about this animal. Sadly, though, this elderly lady has not seen a pangolin since.

The tool we use to cut ant nests is like a giant pair of scissors connected to a 5 metre long bamboo rod. We use a pulley attached to a rope to allows us to opperate these giant scissors. Ant nests closer to the ground can be reached by hand. As soon as we collect the ant nests, we secure them in a large plastic bag which we close tightly so that ants can not get out. Sometimes we need to climb trees to collect ant nests, dropping the nests to a person waiting on the ground. We often need to visit 7 gardens to collect 2 full bags of ants (around 20-30kg worth).

It takes us a half of a day to finish this work. It is hard work if the weather is hot or it’s raining. However, the most terrible thing is being bitten by weaver ants. They always find the softest skin to bite; it hurts and makes us itchy. It’s all worth it, however, when we see our rescued pangolins eating, and we soon forget the ant bites and itches.

Wildlife needs help from all of us, not only from conservationists

Release a Pangolin

Each animal and each species has its own distinctive character and unique story of how she/he comes to the rehabilitation centre. And all of them play important roles in the ecosystem. To maintain its balance and make human life sustainable, we must stop destroy wildlife and its habitat and start protecting them.

I have been working for Cuc Phuong National Park for 16 years and for ten years I have been Program Manager for Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) working with a passion to help my country conserve its many important species and habitats.

CPCP is committed to securing a future for wild populations of threatened carnivores and pangolins in Vietnam. We are dedicated to increasing the understanding of and respect for these unique species and their habitats and empowering people to take action to conserve them.

While working for CPCP, I have spent time working mainly on species conservation including practical conservation actions such as awareness programs, field surveys, training for forest rangers, environmental police officers, border soldiers and, university students and ex situ conservation. I also work on establishing and managing priority conservation breeding programs for globally-threatened species of carnivores and pangolins.

As a Vietnamese, I understand that the country has so much incredible fauna and flora that need to be protected. Working as a conservationist, I have a great opportunity to research animal behaviors and their risks. Each animal and each species has its own distinctive character and unique story of how she/he comes to the rehabilitation centre. And all of them play important roles in the ecosystem. To maintain its balance and make human life sustainable, we must stop destroy wildlife and its habitat and start protecting them.

I have been working with many animal species and the one make a deep impression on me is the Owston’s civet, the globally threatened species, which is listed as “vulnerable” in the IUCN status list. They are native in Vietnam and were easily found in the past. However, nowadays they are hunted for their meat for restaurants and fur for fashion purposes. To save this species, we are carrying out the breeding program at Cuc Phuong National Park and we exchange the animals around the world. Thanks to these programs, more than 50 have been born and we expect that the animals from our breeding programs will be released in to the wild once protected areas in Vietnam is secured from illegal activities.

We can easily see that wild animals need help from all of us, not only from conservationists. The demand for products made from wild animals is so huge. If people don’t stop eating them, wildlife’s future will be hard to be secured.

Training Course for our social research volunteers

training course for volunteers

Thanks to the support from Humane Society International, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife has launched a research on pangolin hunting, trading, and consumption, which is called “Research and Assess the Reality of Pangolin Trade and Consumption in Vietnam”. To help conduct surveys with local people in 15 cities/provinces in Vietnam, we recruited and trained 114 volunteers from across Vietnam.

The volunteers were gathered in three cities, Hue (June 27th), Ho Chi Minh (June 29th), Hanoi (July 5th) for training course focussing on ‘soft skills’, wildlife knowledge and research methodology to be able to work with local people for the surveys.

At the training course, the volunteers learned about Save Vietnam’s Wildlife activities, the wildlife situation in Vietnam, the purpose of the research project, communication skills and photography skills. Hoang The Trung, a student studying at the Forestry University of Vietnam shared: “We have a great time with SVW staff. They taught us many skills that we need to conduct the research and for our future job”.

After training, the volunteers were divided into 15 small groups, each group has a team leader who directly liaises between the group and SVW about the surveys. Questionnaires and other documents were provided to all of them.

These volunteers were selected among nearly 500 initial applicants from many universities and colleges in Vietnam. Their contribution plays a crucial role in the success of the research project that is an important step to creating Vietnam’s Pangolin Action plan and to help identify the target audience for awareness campaigns.

First Owston’s Civet rescued in 14 years

Rescued Civet in 14 years

Since 1995, the CPCP/Save Vietnam’s Wildlife is the only rescue centre which has a successful track record in the rehabilitation and breeding of Owston’s Civets. This is the first rescue of an Owston’s Civet to the CPCP centre since 2002.

The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP), a collaboration between Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW) and Cuc Phuong National Park, worked with Xuan Loc – Long Khanh Forest Protection Station (FPS), Dong Nai Province to successfully rescue an Owston’s Civet (Chrotogate owstoni). This is the first rescue of an Owston’s Civet to the CPCP centre since 2002. The individual is now under special care at the CPCP/Save Vietnam’s Wildlife.

This civet was voluntarily handed over by Mr Luu Quang Mat, a local person from Long Khanh, Dong Nai Province. He contacted SVW’s wildlife crime hotline 0978.331.441 directly. According to Mr Luu, he bought two Owston’s Civets in 2014 from a local hunter in Ho Chi Minh City and raised them as pets without knowing the species is prohibited for hunting and trading for commercial purposes. One of the civets had died due to its weakness. After that, he decided to hand over the remaining civet to the rescue centre.

“Fortunately, I could contact Save Vietnam’s Wildlife to get a better solution for this rare species. If I had known about the organisation earlier, another civet would not have died. All I want now is for this civet to recover so that it can be released back into the wild. I believe that the civet is now in good hands”, Mr Luu said.

The Owston’s Civet is one of the rarest civet species in Vietnam. It is classified in group IIB under Decree 32/2006/NĐ-CP and prioritized for protection by the Government. In order to ensure confiscated Owston’s Civets and other wildlife will be transferred to rescue centres, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife conducted an Owston’s Civet Awareness Campaign in late 2014.

Mr Tran Quang Phuong, CPCP Manager, said: “This rescue marks the first result of our campaign in raising public awareness of Owston’s Civet conservation. Also, it motivates the governmental authorities to keep responding on the confiscation of this species and transferring them to rescue centres.” Phuong added: “This individual is in good health. It will greatly contribute to our Owston’s Civet Conservation Breeding Program which is designed to increase the genetic diversity of wild populations”.

“Working with CPCP/Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, we understand that releasing Owston’s Civet straight back into the forests without quarantine and monitoring may harm wild populations. We highly appreciate Mat’s action and will continue to work closely with local communities as well as the rescue centres for further rescue activities in future.” Mr Nguyen Huu Hai from Xuan Loc – Long Khanh FPS, stated. Mr Nguyen Van Thai, Director of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife added, “Owston’s Civet can carry the Avian Influenza H5N1. Many Owston’s Civets died in 2005 and 2008 due to the Avian Influenza H5N1. Therefore, the animals need to be quarantined with careful health assessment before we can return them back to the wild. Keeping Owston’s Civets as pets or eating them in restaurants may transfer the disease to people”.

Since 1995, the CPCP/Save Vietnam’s Wildlife is the only rescue centre which has a successful track record in the rehabilitation and breeding of Owston’s Civets. If you are in possession of an Owston’s Civet, or have made a sighting, please contact CPCP/Save Vietnam’s Wildlife at 0978.331.441 to give this rare species a better chance of survival.

Conducting the Owston’s civet Awareness Campaign for the first time

Civet Poster Campaign

The campaign aims to highlight the importance of Owston’s civet conservation to ensure confiscated Owston’s civets and confiscated wildlife as well will be transferred to rescue centres. This is the first time an awareness campaign towards Owston’s civet conservation has been conducted in Vietnam. 

The highlighted activity of the campaign that is Save Vietnam’s Wildlife staff travelled approximately 5000 kilometers to visit and directly delivery Owston’s civet posters and calendars to forest rangers of eight central provinces, two national parks and 19 northern provinces in Vietnam including: Thanh Hoa, Ha Tinh, Nghe An, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Hue, Da Nang, Quang Nam, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, Bach Ma National Park, Hoa Binh, Son La, Dien Bien, Lai Chau, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Tuyen Quang, Ha Giang, Phu Tho, Vinh Phuc, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, Hai Duong, Quang Ninh, Hai Phong, Hung Yen, Ninh Binh, Nam Dinh and Ha Noi.

At each ranger stations, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife staffs have shared the situation of conservation and threats of Owston’s civet in particular and Carnivores and Pangolins in general with rangers. The necessary knowledge and skills on how to identify wild animals, how to handle and care for confiscated carnivores and pangolins were also provided to rangers. Besides, the numbers of Pangolin Information Factsheet have been also delivered to all rangers.

Mr. Nguyen Van Thai, Executive Director of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife shared: “There is no Owston’s civets have been transferred to rescue centres in Vietnam for over 12 years. Most confiscated Owston’s civets have been released straight back into the nearest forests without the consideration of quarantine, monitoring, or a viable location for release. They often get auctioned for the legal market. We hope the awareness campaign helps get more attention and action amongst functional authorities and public towards Owston’s civet and wildlife protection”.

The Owston’s civet (Chrotogale owstoni) becomes one of the rarest civet species in Vietnam for many reasons. Due to its largely terrestrial habitats, the Owston’s civet is vulnerable to snare traps, one of the most common hunting methods throughout their home ranges. In addition, this species appears to be in higher demand than other civets due to their beautiful pelt and the large scent glands which are used in traditional medicine. Owston’s civet is classified as a vulnerable species according to both IUCN Red List and Vietnam Red Book.

To date, there are only 19 Owston’s civets in captivity all over the world and all of which are managed by Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW) in cooperation with Cuc Phuong National Park. Save Vietnam’s Wildlife has successfully conducted the Owston’s Civet Conservation Breeding Program following which 66 Owston’s civets from 14 rescued and rehabilitated wild individuals have been successfully bred.

Released 14 rehabilitated Common Palm civets

Save Vietnam’s Wildlife worked together with Cuc Phuong National Park to successfully release four Common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) into Cuc Phuong National Park. This brings the total number of civets that have been released back into the forest to 14 after 10 Common palm civets had been previously released on 15th July.

A common issue with civets from civet farms is the poor conditions they live in. This results in a poor state of health and often severe physical injuries to their tails and ears. With the professional assistance of WCS and AAF veterinarians they received proper care and regained their health prior to release. The remaining civets will be released once they too have reached optimum health.These civets have received five months of rehabilitation at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. They were amongst 18 that were captured for the production of civet coffee by local people in Lam Dong Province since 2011. The owner decided to voluntarily hand over these civets to Lam Dong Forest Protection Department and then they were transferred safely to the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife in May 2014.

Although Common palm civets are not listed in the Vietnam Red Book, populations of this species are steadily declining in the wild. They are commonly hunted and traded for meat, their musk. and for civet coffee production. To protect this species effective conservation methods need to be applied and wildlife farms are unacceptable option for wildlife conservation in Vietnam.

To understand more about the Civet coffee situation visit here.

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