Robert Slattery is a writer living in Western North Carolina. He enjoys music and all sorts of other things.
Costly Little Trees
Animal Rights – Bonsai is an art. It is also a business, and one that is coming with cost to the white-headed langur, an endangered monkey of Vietnam.
Much of the problem stems around the desire for bonsai growers for the Ficus benjamica, a fig that is regularly taken out from the root and sold for as much as $1,000. It’s the kind of money that can bring out the bad in people, and many are poaching these trees from national parks, such as Cat Ba National Park, home to the last of the white-headed langur, which number 70 today.
Conservationist Pham Van Tuyen explained the conditions simply, “It just takes a couple of hours to go into the forest and take a tree but it can take 30 to 40 years to grow one.” This kind of incremental deforestation is disturbing the biodiversity of the area, threatening these monkeys that were once the victims of poaching themselves. The tumultuous conditions in the area are removing housing and food sources for the animals, effectively endangering them, even if they are no longer the focus of the poaching.
Despite the simplified Hollywood representation of poaching (when, of course, it is covered) most poachers are, in fact, “decent people” in that they choose to poach due to poverty, not evil, and largely local villagers and not pseudo mercenaries with assault rifles and bowie knives. The reality is that poaching is a tragic thing, and it is something that can only be stopped by changing larger conditions. In the case of the langur, education has helped keep the locals from poaching the animal, but what they’ve moved on to is having a similar effect. Resolving the larger issues by providing employment built around conservation may prove to be the best way to save these species from extinction.