Over the past few years, a group of veterinary engineers, forest rangers and volunteers have been dedicated to the rescue and caretaking of birds, particularly endangered ones, at a national wildlife reserve in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap.
Tram Chim National Park, which spans several communes in the province’s Tam Nong District, is home to 233 waterfowl species of some hundred thousand individuals, which account for one fourth of the country’s bird population.
Among them, many are rare species listed in Vietnam and World Red Books of endangered fauna and flora.
The 7,300- hectare park boasts vast expanses of lush cajuput, which have long been haven for such rare waterfowl species as white-winged wild ducks, spot-billed pelicans, lesser adjutant storks and particularly red-headed cranes.
The red-headed crane is the largest of the crane family and is on the brink of extinction worldwide.
Over the past several years, apart from efforts in preventing wildfires and protecting cajuput forests of Tram Chim park, particular attention has also been paid to the conservation of the waterfowls- the park’s special residents.
The bird vets, rescuers and nannies
Among the forest rangers and volunteers who were riding on a motorboat into one of the park’s stretches of cajuput was Nguyen Thi Nga, a 34-year-old veterinary engineer.
After half an hour crossing the wetlands, Nga signaled to the boat driver to turn off his boat engine.
She promptly grabbed an oar and gently maneuvered the boat closer to the observatory, which is some 20 meters high and built from green iron poles.
“We’re at the bird breeding ground now. Please speak in whispers, or the birds may startle,” Nga, the team’s only female member, murmured before briskly climbing onto a ladder to the top of the observatory.
Since a young girl, Nga, a native to the land, has cherished her dream of owning the area’s largest bee farm.
She studied and graduated from a local university’s veterinary farming faculty, ready to turn her dream into reality.
However, after some time working at Tram Chim National Park, she gave up on her bee dream and became a vet and nurse to the park’s waterfowls without even noticing it.
She’s also a savior of and nanny to the newborn birds which fall off their nests during storms, and a trainer to fledging ones.
Nga revealed that though formed only over two years ago, the three-hectare breeding ground has thrived robustly.
The ground is now haven to over 10,000 nests, 60% of which belong to the Little Cormorant, scientifically termed Phalacrocorax niger.
The remaining nests belong to “dieng dieng” (snake-necked pelican) and several other species.
On top of the observatory, the nests are seemingly within reach, with the fledgling birds straining their necks in wait for the food their mothers will bring home.
Nga said that the two species’ breeding season typically spans from August to November every year, which coincides with the peak of the rainy, flooding season.
The little cormorant, which is by nature careless, generally builds their nests anywhere they perch on, including unstable nicks. Their young thus usually flop into the water during gusty storms, she explained.
“Along with the forest rangers, we scoop them up and nurse them until they’re strong enough to fly back to their nests,” the veterinary engineer said.
“Giang sen” (or Indian crane, scientifically termed Mycteria leucocephala), which is enlisted in Vietnam Red Book, has seen a notable rise this year, with the current number estimated at some 10,000 individuals, Nga proudly said.
Founded three years ago, Tram Chim park’s rescue and conservation team now has six members, which are tasked with conserving waterfowls, sea creatures, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.
Nga is in charge of protecting the waterfowls and is assisted by forest rangers and volunteers.
Next to the observatory at the birds’ breeding ground, rescuers have put up a camp, where two of them are on standby day and night.
“The on-site rescue is integral to our conservation work. The rescuers provide emergency care, and release those which are strong enough to fly back to their nests on their own. Those which are too young and feeble are brought back to our center, where they are cared for until they can safely rejoin their natural habitat,” said Nguyen Van Nghia, a forest ranger and one of Nga’s enthusiastic volunteers, who was on standby at the camp.
Nga and her team also take turns patrolling for the birds which are sick or trapped and bring them back to the center for care.
Their dedication has had a positive impact on locals, the engineer shared.
A local couple spotted a spot-bill pelican which wouldn’t eat for several days.
“We examined the bird and put it on medication to treat its digestive disease. After four days, the bird made a full recovery. We were on the verge of tears then,” Nga recalled.
Not long before that, her team also admitted a lesser adjutant stork from locals. The bird was injured in its leg, and couldn’t fly.
After nearly 10 days in intensive care, the stork fully recovered and flapped its wings into the sky.
“Some years ago, 10% of the park’s young birds fall to their death every year. Since Nga’s team was deployed, their hard work and devotion have remarkably reduced the young birds’ fatality rate,” observed Nguyen Van Hung, the park’s director.
Nguyen Hoang Minh Hai, a park official, said the park management will propose to the provincial authorities that Nga’s conservation team be developed into a specialized center under the park.
Rampant waterfowl poaching, trading
While Nga and her team have made tireless conservation efforts, rampant poaching and trading of Tram Chim National Park’s birds, including Red-Book listed ones, remains rampant.
Waterfowls are blatantly for public sale on several sections of National Highways 1, 91, 91B, and interprovincial road 943 in Dong Thap and the neighboring provinces of An Giang, Hau Giang and Can Tho City.
On sale are plucked, slaughtered and even living wild birds.