Life Life

16/10/2020 - 08:00

Guarding the forest in the flood season

Only a couple of dozen humble people bear the responsibility to secure protection for the magnificent “green lung” despite all the difficulties and challenges caused by heavy rains and floods.

Patrolling the forest with difficulty in the rainy season

“Hanging by a thread”

At the age of 30 and with 7 years of work experience, Mr. Nguyen Van Luong, Vice-Captain of the Specialized Forest Guards under the Management Board of North Hai Van's Protection Forest, has been through many hardships of guarding forest.

From firefighting in the dry season to patrolling in the flood season day and night, Mr. Luong and the unit’s forces are always ready to hold onto the deep woods for preventing illegal loggers and poachers from harming precious trees and wild animals.

After several forest patrols, Mr. Luong has concluded that each season brings with it different harshness and hardship. To the guards of the “green lung”, however, patrolling in the flood season always involves higher risks of unpredictable dangers.

“There are steep hills where we have to focus and stay alert for every second, every minute and every “millimeter”. We have to hold fast to trees and cling to small holes when crossing huge boulders or sheer mountains. Under the circumstances, our lives are considered as “hanging by a thread.” Just a moment of mistake and carelessness and we will slip and be devoured by the abyss at any time,” trembled Mr. Luong when recalling these memories.

Mr. Nguyen Van Luong removing traps for wild animals

The fear of heavy rains has instilled into the guards on patrol. Heavy rains produce water flow from high mountains, which causes many boulders and rocks to roll down. Many have once fell over stones, got bleeding or even crippled. It is even more dangerous if they are hit by boulders rolling down.

Mr. Luong reported that during the patrol in the sub-region 234 in the flood season last year, Mr. Nguyen Anh Kiet, Captain of the Forest Guards of Thuy An, Loc Thuy Commune (Phu Loc), was suddenly hit by a huge boulder rolling down when trying to cross a high hill.

Mr. Kiet was quickly hospitalized by the patrol and given a 10-day treatment for his injuries. Members of the patrol judged it as “a blessing in disguise. Thanks to his deeds, including protecting the forest and saving wild animals, his life was saved.”

The frequent fear of slugs, forest leeches, snakes, etc., also haunts forest guards during week-long patrols in the flood season. Despite always wearing boots while crossing the forest, sometimes members of the patrol still get bitten by forest leeches or snakes. Some were once bitten by venomous snakes and given first aid using preventive medicines and medicinal plants right in the jungle.

Crossing forest and stream in conditions of heavy rains, strong winds and slippery ground is tough, let alone carrying bulky backpacks full of food, water, tools, tents, ropes, flashlights, waterproof bags for gears and so on.

Despite the torrential downpour and swift-flowing water, it is the professional obligation that motivates forest guards to make an effort to cross the stream. Wearing a life jacket, each of the guards will hold onto the rope in turn. Letting the strongest ones go first is how they cross the stream successfully. There were some mistakes during this process, but luckily the members of the patrol managed to support each other promptly so that everyone’s life could be secured.

In the forest, heavy rains and strong winds bring with them the freeze. Up to 5-7 members of the patrol huddle together in the cramped tent, which is not large enough to shelter them from the rain. Even though members of the patrol take turns to guard, almost everyone stays up all night due to the cold weather. Some even suffered from a cold right from the first night sleeping in the woods as a result of crossing the streams and mountains during daytime and losing sleep at nighttime.

The joy is as simple as that!

Besides encountering many difficulties during the patrol, the forest guards are anxious, regularly keeping track of the weather forecast and heavy rain warnings so as to quickly move out of the jungle before the arrival of the life-threatening flood.

Mr. Nguyen Thanh, Deputy Director of the Management Board of Sao La Nature Reserve  (A Luoi), still feels in a daze when talking about his colleagues being trapped in the deep woods due to flood. It took his fellows 10 days to find their way out of the forest to get back home safely.

However, only Deputy Head of Forest Protection Sub-department under the Management Board of Sao La Nature Reserve got stuck in the jungle, which was life-threatening. Thanks to functional forces’ searching efforts, he was finally found and evacuated out of the jungle in poor health status due to exhaustion after days of crossing the forest, cold and lack of food.

According to Mr. Thanh, it was alright to patrol the forest in the flood season in case “everything went well”. However, unpredictable risks would emerge when illegal loggers and poachers were active. While patrolling the bordering forest between Nam Dong and A Luoi several years ago, rangers in A Luoi, in cooperation with border guards, detected 4 illegal loggers together with their logging vehicles and 4 cubic meters of logs.

It was difficult to fight and arrest illegal loggers and poachers. While escorting the criminals together with the exhibits back to the ranger station, however, there was a heavy downpour. The floodwater level of the Huu Trach River headwaters rose quickly, which trapped the patrol in the forest. It took the patrol 10 days to cross the jungle and stream to safely end up in Tu Re Ranger Station.

“This involves many difficulties, challenges, and sometimes joy! Upon every patrol into the forest, the greatest longing of forest guards is being able to see rare species of plants, wild animals, trees with large trunks and medicinal herbs. Seeing species of wild and rare animals to provide evidence for their survival and the practices in the protection of a “common habitat” of plants and animals in the jungle bring about job satisfaction for those on patrol,” laughed Mr. Luong, Vice-Captain of the Specialized Forest Guards under the Management Board of North Hai Van's Protection Forest.

Despite all the risks and challenges, the income of forest guards is still too low to ensure their quality of life. “The income of forest guards like us is only enough to afford milk for our children," said Mr. Luong. Many people hold onto guarding the forest mostly because of their love and passion for the profession, as well as their responsibility and concern in the conservation of nature and species of plants and wild animals.

According to Mr. Tran Quoc Hung, Deputy Director of the Management Board for North Hai Van's Protection Forest, due to the low income and poor quality of life, it is no wonder why many of the guards who have devoted themselves to this profession for many years now have to shelve their dedication and give up their “dream” of securing the protection for the “green lung”.

Since 2018, only at North Hai Van's Management Board for Protection Forest, there have been 8 forest guards quitting their jobs, leaving “big gaps” for this unit. Luckily, the people filling in the "gaps" are young, dedicated to and responsible for guarding the forest. But nobody is sure how long they will devote themselves to this profession.

Story and photos: Hoang Trieu