The Balancing Act
January 17, 2012
Story By Aly Heare
Good Morning Vietnam, and an early morning it is in Tram Chim National Park. But our tired eyes are instantly rewarded as we set off in our motorboat guiding us down the watery road system of the national park’s ‘backcountry.’ As the boat slips through the warm water birds explode upward with sudden swoops of their wings. We see kite hawks, egrets, cranes, king fishers, and hummingbirds with everything in-between, everything except the mascot of Tram Chim: the Sarus crane. The birds glide up and away from our obnoxious motor to the safety and solitude this park provides for all these magnificently winged creatures, and humankind alike.
Tram Chim transformed from a national reserve into a national park on December 29,1998. On that fateful day the park made a promise to both the government and the land to protect and preserve its wildlife while also honoring the history and culture of the Mekong Delta. The first half of the promise presented challenges aplenty, but the second half of the promise added an even greater complexity; the balancing act between conservation efforts and livelihood.
Tram Chim is now the proud home to 231 species of birds, 32 of which are listed in the Red Book (IUCN’s threatened species list). Every bird I see is a work of art but the real royalty of the park’s bird population is the Sarus crane. This magnificent species of crane is 1.8 meters tall, meaning it is slightly taller than my 5’9’’ stature. They are romanticized by their mating habit of having only one partner for a lifetime, a husband or wife if you will. If their partner were to pass away the Sarus crane would never remarry and some are even said to have died of a broken heart. Call it corny, but I for one love it. The Tram Chim is the cranes’ feeding ground from January to June, so we would have been extraordinarily lucky to have glimpsed one in the first place. Tram Chim is on the right path for fulfilling the first half of their promise, but what of the second part?
No national park is without the dilemma of people vs. nature and which should have a greater precedence when managing the needs of the park, Tram Chim is no exception. But they have taken a new perspective and have developed a system that implements the people into the internal workings of the park. For example, the local people are allowed to fish in the park, but to a limit. They are also encouraged to come into the park during a designated season to harvest last season’s dead grass. This practice then makes room for next seasons new growth, decreases fire danger, and the people gain a valuable asset in their mushroom cultivation practices. In this way the people of the surrounding community have gained a stake in the park and are more willing to help not hinders it betterment. Furthermore, a quick response team made up of the locals has been trained in fire management practices, due to the very serious threat of wild fire in the dry season. Tram Chim National Park, in my view, is an expert tight ropewalker in the balancing act between conversation and the peoples’ livelihoods.
So far in Tram Chim’s short life as a national park the two part promise has been kept. For I can see each half with my naked eye as I glide along the water lily and lotus flower filled waterways. I see the people in gilt of the little boy with the water buffalo on a leash washing itself in the water and I see conservation in the swoop and glide of the enormous wingspan of a heron. But most of all I see hope for the protected places of Vietnam and the escape they provide for the wild kingdom, human and animal alike.