Book Review – Gold Rush in the Jungle: The Race to Discover and Defend the Rarest Animals of Vietnam’s “Lost World” by Dan Drollette Jr.

Dan Drollette Jr, award-winning Science and Environmental journalist, writes of a different Vietnam, where conservation, preservation, and protection of wildlife and their environment take precedence over the ugliness of war. This is the “Lost World” of Vietnam, the area bordering on Laos and Cambodia where rare animals such as the muntjac (deer that barks), the langur (leaf-eating monkey), the kouprey (forest ox), and the unique saola (antelope/unicorn) can be found. The valleys, karsts, and caves of the Annamese Cordillera offer safe refuge for these animals away from people and outside influences. They escaped the devastation of the Vietnam War and the effects of Agent Orange and Agent Blue to survive in their natural habitats free of toxic dioxins and herbicides.

Drollette has written a fascinating book detailing the past, the present, and the future of wildlife rescue with emphasis on the importance of saving their environment. He provides excellent descriptions of the rare animals in the “Lost World,” and relates his personal experiences while traveling through Vietnam on the back of a motorcycle, the familiar “bike’s hug” local transportation. We learn about biodiversity and conservation of ecosystems in Vietnam, as well as the projects for captive breeding of rare and endangered species in his visits to Tilo Nadler’s EPRC (Endangered Primate Rescue Center) and Cuc Phuong National Park. The author tells us the history of the turtle reserve at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi and the future of the turtle as the venerable protector and one of four sacred animals of Vietnam.

The rush for gold, a race for money, is a worldwide phenomenon and one that seems to have no end. It is an ongoing contest between the lucrative, but illegal black market trade and the diligence of the conservationists. Vietnam constantly works to improve their economy, but economic development must be regulated to maintain a balance between the rush for money and the preservation of the natural beauty of the land. Rare animals, whether in cages, parks, or on nature reserves, are big tourist attractions which boost the economy, but often leave negative effects on the environment. People rush to see and purchase all types of things taken from these rare animals who live in distant, mysterious worlds. Some buy in huge quantities to sell or trade and before long the supply is depleted. Unless these rare animals are saved, the various species will soon become extinct (rhino horns are a good example). Others buy these animals for trophies or status symbols to bring home from their journey, much like those captured on an African safari. Many visit Vietnam to purchase rare items such as bear bile for medicinal uses, claiming they perform miracles.

Although a little difficult to begin because of the rather lengthy prologue, I read further and found the book contains a wealth of information based on extensive research, facts, and historical background. Drollette has presented this information in an interesting narrative fashion, with a few pictures adding to the content (more would be beneficial, but photography may have been limited.) I had a tendency to skim through the chapters on Linnaeus and the Hawaii conservation efforts used for comparison, which seemed to digress from the focus on Vietnam. In contrast, however, the innovative plan of Costa Rica’s government to pay landowners to maintain the forest rather than cut it down definitely caught my attention.

I thoroughly enjoyed Drollette’s story of personal experiences on his journey of adventure and discovery in which he emphasizes the importance of educating the people and requiring stricter enforcement of regulations by the government to promote wildlife rescue and environmental protection. Drollette believes that Vietnam has been given a “second chance” to survive and preserve its natural resources. He reminds us that new species often disappear before they are even discovered. Readers who were probably unfamiliar with the “Lost World,” as I was, will be intrigued by its history, its future, and its significance for Vietnam and the rest of the world.

It will definitely appeal to every scientist, environmentalist, educator, and journalist, as well as to people who are always curious about new discoveries of rare and unusual animals. The reader may be encouraged enough by the book to follow and perhaps participate in conservation efforts and wildlife rescues in their own part of the world. I think most of us will agree with Drollette’s quote from the renowned biologist George Schaller who said “Everything we want, need, and use is dependent on nature.”

Crown Publishers – Division of Random House
April 16, 2013
U.S. $25.00
Amazon – $17.23 Hard Cover, $12.99 Kindle

Sharon L Slayton

Filed Under: Meaningful Travel

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