A lover and care-giver of precious cranes

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Báo Tuổi Trẻ English - 71 month(s) ago 9 readings

A lover and care-giver of precious cranes

Nature lovers around the country must have been excited to know that 7,313 hectares of Tram Chim National Park in Dong Thap Province were designated to be a Ramsar site, or a wetland of International Importance, in January this year.

crane Nam Hong uses binoculars to follow the crane migration in 2012 at a wetland area in subdivision A5, Tram Chim National Park Photo: Tuoi Tre

The achievement is the fruit of many generations of rangers whose work is crucial to maintaining the park’s forests and land. One of them is Nam Hong, a veteran forest guard with 20 years of experience.

As the sun is beginning to set and the sky slowly turning crimson, a grey-haired man trains his binoculars on the Sarus cranes’ feeding ground under Kinh Ranh bridge at Phu Thanh B village in Tam Nong District of Dong Thap Province. He then turns around to cheerfully announce that he has spotted two birdies in a newly arrived flock of 6–9 cranes, a positive sign that more of them would come to the park in this year’s dry season.

A special love for the cranes

After getting married, Hong worked at many different jobs before living on a boat that sailed along the Mekong River. His life as a park ranger began when he stopped his boat one day at Kinh Ranh River in Phu Binh village of Tam Nong district and went on land to join the Tram Chim National Park in 1994. Since then Hong has explored and learned all there is to learn about the grass, trees and birds in the area under his charge.

But the species of bird that claims a special place in his heart is the Sarus Crane, the endangered species as listed in the red list by the International Union for Conservation and Nature.

Using binoculars and listening to the sounds they make, he can recognize a Sarus crane from a few kilometers away. He can count each one in a flock of hundreds flying by and even point out the newly joined ones by the color of their feathers.

According to his colleagues, Hong was the first to carry a fully-grown crane to the hospital ten years ago when he found a big crane unable to take flight despite its repeated attempts. Coming closer, he noticed that the poor creature did not have much feathers left on its wings for flying. He immediately reported to the management board and brought the bird back to the park with him.

Experts confirmed that the crane was going through its molt and some pus in its liver had caused its severe feather loss and poor health condition. The bird was immediately sent to Ho Chi Minh City for treatment but unfortunately could not survive.

The incident impacted Hong so strongly that he started to give more care to the Sarus crane. One time, seeing a group of cranes landing and then quickly leaving because they did not find enough food, he bought some rice and spread it on the grassland for them.

The “hot spots” resolver

In 1998 when Tram Chim was upgraded from a provincial-level wildlife reserve to a national park, he was dispatched to Kinh Cung station, a remote area at the extreme edge of the park, because Hong knew the area well and had developed good relations with the locals.

It took him a day to get to this station through the dense tram (melaleuca) forests. His responsibilities were to watch out for forest fires from a high watch tower every day as well as guarding against illegal loggers, fish catchers and other criminal involved in damaging activities.

Hong was the only forest guard stationed here and necessities like rice and salt were delivered to him once a month. For four years working at an isolated spot with no one around to talk to, he felt as if he were a soldier guarding some off-shore islands. His loneliness was such that he was overjoyed to hear the occasional sound of a boat’s generator and the people on it passing by.

With the love for the forest plus his own experience in having to depend on nature for a living from an earlier time, Hong succeeded in persuading many people to stop doing damage to the forests.

“They did it for their family’s survival. I simply try to talk some sense into them, using calm and clear explanations, and eventually they stop the wrongdoing. We can’t change people’s awareness through the use of violence,” said Hong.

Although he is now turning 60, Hong is working in the A5 subdivision, a “hot spot” where locals still trespass the park illegally or farmers still take their cattle to graze in the cranes’ grassland.

Knowing that the locals start their day early before 5 am, he gets up around 3-4 am and takes his morning walk of nearly 10 km, following the dyke that rings the park.

The friendly forest ranger would stop by each cattle-raiser’s home to remind them not to unleash their cows or buffalos on the feeding area reserved for the cranes. These birds, he gently tell them, account for half of the meaning of the park, together with the tram (melaleuca) forests.

Farmers in Phu Thanh B and Phu Hiep villages are now used to his morning greetings and the message he has for them. Some could even finish the sentence for him before he could say half of it, telling him to go remind people in other villages.

“Good on you, then. Keep it up!” the old man would simply beam a big smile at them.

“Hong is a devoted person for his work. With his experience and down-to-earth personality, he has helped cool down many “hot spots” of illegal logging. Thanks to him, the cranes keep coming back to our park. If every ranger in the force were like him, our burden of worry would be considerably relieved,” said the park director Nguyen Van Hung.

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