The focus of WildAct is on education and professional training around biodiversity conservation and the environment, with a focus on the under 25s. As part of this, we work with teachers, pupils, schools and rangers in remote areas to help develop an understanding of environmental issues, run nationwide training courses on combating wildlife trafficking and organise initiatives to encourage more environmentally sustainable practices. While our work here is varied, I have written a few words about one crucial part of that, and why it matters both to Vietnam and beyond.
The threats facing species in Vietnam are all too familiar, but there is also the grim reality that the country has not only become a major consumer, but also a major supplier and a transit point for wildlife products. The array of fauna involved in trade within Vietnam is staggering, including around 150 terrestrial vertebrate species (according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – CITES). A similar number of invertebrates are also involved. The illegal trade of the most high-profile species and products: rhino horn, elephant ivory, tiger parts and pangolin scales is a prolific problem within the country. Whereas the horn and ivory trade leaves behind distant carcasses, tigers and pangolins are traded both alive and dead. In the wild there are very few Indochinese tigers left in Vietnam, if any, and an unknown number of the two pangolin species, yet seizures still occur, and with alarming frequency.
In response to this, we designed Vietnam’s first ever, government-recognised short courses in both combating the illegal wildlife trade and captive wild animal welfare. With so many live animal seizures within Vietnam, and no formal training available to officials or NGO staff who must then take care of them, welfare is a major issue and is indicative of the requirement to build capacity. WildAct’s courses, offered as master’s modules or as stand-alone diplomas are aimed at addressing the three areas mentioned above: education, experience and network.
Through the commitment and dedication of both the conservation community and government bodies from Vietnam and beyond, we are able to bring a huge amount of experience together in one place, allowing participants the opportunity to meet and hopefully impress potential employers while learning from them. The students are required to undertake work experience, in which our conservation NGO partners have been extremely supportive. Participants are encouraged throughout the course to engage with each other and our guest speakers at every possible opportunity. The conservation world is a small one, so the value of networking can never be understated.
Once our students graduate, we continue to support them with career advice, alerting them to opportunities, helping with CVs and preparing them for interviews. It is early days for our capacity building program, but the model seems to be working, with all of the participants from our first course now employed in varied positions within Vietnam’s NGO sector. They have come to us from diverse backgrounds, and are now in diverse conservation roles (fieldwork, marketing, veterinary work etc) but it is encouraging and gratifying to see them entering the workplace within Vietnam and working towards their own career goals. They’ve also kept in touch with each other, further strengthening their own network which can make a massive difference when you are working against odds which can feel overwhelming.
Vietnam can be a challenging place to work, in many ways. There’s multi-layered bureaucracy, difficulties of language, a social and professional culture unlike any I have experienced elsewhere, deeply entrenched gender roles and, of course, a major biodiversity crisis in a country set to be hit hard by climate change. With all of that as a background, the ability to work with and for people who have made a decision to make a difference, and to work towards improving their country’s future, with a more resilient environment and with the nation’s remarkable biodiversity in mind, is both inspiring and uplifting, and serves as a much-needed reminder that there really can be good news in conservation.