Poor management of fire threats in the Mekong Delta’s Tram Chim National Park, a Ramsar site, has caused a sharp decline in the number of sarus cranes there in recent years, a scientist has said.
Speaking at a seminar on the park’s bio-diversity in Cao Lanh city last Friday, Dr Vu Ngoc Long, head of the Southern Institute of Ecology, said the park no longer has enough food for the cranes due to excessive storage of water by building dykes to prevent forest fires.
Sedge tubers are a favourite food for the world’s tallest flying birds, but the growth of sedge in the 7,313ha Tram Chim has been declining year after year while the plants that still exist no longer have tubers, he said.
However, the situation is very different in Cambodia, he said. Just a few days earlier he had visited Anlong Pring Sarus Crane Reserve in Cambodia’s Kampot Province and saw more than 300 sarus cranes there compared to just two in Tram Chim on February 26, he claimed.
According to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) statistics, in 2009 the number of sarus cranes visiting the forest was 126, but four years later it had plummeted to just 13. The number is further down now to an estimated 10.
The organisation also reported that the area of sedge (eleocharis) in the park reduced from 1,509ha to 615ha in that period.
Nguyen Van Hung, the park director, said he faced a quandary. To prevent fires, which bring criticism from his superiors, water levels in the forest are kept high, but on the other hand, fires are essential for healthy forests and nature’s way of nourishing them.
“We should see fire as an element of nature and not an enemy. We recently set off controlled fires in some areas.
“Tram Chim National Forest should be managed based on Ramsar criteria. Forest fires should be allowed … After each fire, sedge as well as other kinds of trees grow much better.”
He also blamed the media for the situation, saying it sensationalised every fire without any understanding of the issue, in the process influencing the Government.
Hoang Viet of WWF agreed that fires are not a bad thing and should not be prevented.
Duong Van Nha, vice dean of An Giang University’s agriculture faculty, said sedge cannot grow well or produce large tubers if there is too much water, but instead needs dry land for a period of time for its tubers to become big.
Tram Chim has long been famous for its population of sarus cranes, which inhabits the Ramsar site in the dry season and is a major tourist attraction.