The glowing red sun slowly sets behind the forests of Na Hang, casting its final rays through the over 100-year-old trees in northern Vietnam’s Tuyen Quang province.
Phung Van Pham, a 55-year-old man from the Dao ethnic group, drags his feet out of the forest after a two-day patrol.
He still looks fresh, despite the long hours, but a centipede bite to his left foot is hampering him.
Dao ethnic man Phung Van Pham (front) stands by an ancient Burretiodendron Hsienmu tree that he saved from illegal loggers. ( Viet Nam News)
“It doesn’t hurt. I already cleaned it with water caltrops in the forest. Now, I just need the saliva of a chicken (a traditional medicine to cure the bite).”
He smiles broadly and softly rubs the injury which is surrounded by a number of old scars.
He’s used to the perils of the forest, he says.
Pham is not a forest ranger or a hunter, but simply a Dao farmer who has spent more than 10 years voluntarily protecting the forest from illegal loggers and saving hundreds of ancient Burretiodendron Hsienmu trees.
The 40,000-hectare forest is situated in Na Hang district and covers four communes.
Khong Van Quang, deputy head of Na Hang Forest Ranger Department, says the department’s 43 officers are not able to patrol every corner of the forest, so they need people like Pham.
They are the eyes and ears of the forest rangers, and they help fight illegal logging, he says.
Pham is not paid for patrolling the forest, but he spends days monitoring various areas before returning home to tend to his farm.
Pham says: “The sound of saws and the behavior of the birds tell me where the forest is being hurt by loggers.”
When the birds’ nests are threatened, their usual sweet melodies change to calls of alarm, he says.
Using this knowledge, he tracks down illegal loggers and informs the forest rangers of what’s going on.
Quang says that Pham understands the forest because it’s part of his life, and forest rangers are always available to respond to his reports.
Thanks to his work, dozens of illegal loggers have been caught and punished, but loggers are becoming more devious due to the potential profits they can make.
These trees are some of the most precious in this forest because they are centuries old with an average diameter of several meters, he says.
Pham has been targeted by illegal loggers in the past when they realized what he was doing.
By Viet Tung
(Viet Nam News)