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Vietnam - What's in a Name?

by Dr. Eleanor J. Sterling
International Program Director, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History

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The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History was created in 1993 in response to growing concerns about biodiversity. We bring the Museum's expertise in zoology, anthropology, education, and exhibition to bear on issues of biodiversity conservation. An example of our strategy is our program in Vietnam, where we are in the middle of a three-year conservation project designed to assist the Vietnamese government in identifying areas to be protected.

Vietnam is intrinsically interesting, as it has a fascinating diversity of wildlands. Much of the wild life in Vietnam is unknown to western scientists, including some species that are only found in Vietnam. One of the mammals new to science is the Saola.

Vietnam has lost 80% of its forest cover, partly due to the ravages of war and partly to supply post-war lumbering operations such as rebuilding schools, homes and hospitals. In addition, the cultural diversity of Vietnam, which includes 53 minority groups, posses a challenge as different groups view their environment in a manner consistent with their ways of life. If policy recommendations are to be effective and benign, they must take this cultural diversity into account.

What is the plan? In 1998, we surveyed three very different areas within the country to determine what plant and animal species are found in unprotected areas. To assist in surveying and identifying areas for research, we created a Remote Sensing Graphical Information System laboratory within the Center last October. This will cut down on the initial reconnaissance. The Thematic Mapper can locate and display specified features such as rivers, forested areas, political boundaries, and topography. In 1999, we plan to work with Vietnamese ethnologist who will provide information about resource utilization. Next year we will work farther in the north and then work with the government to identify further needs for the protected area system.

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