HA NOI—An estimated 4 million school children a year in Viet Nam aged 6 to 11 years old will be taught lessons for the first time ever in threatened wildlife such as rhinos, elephants, pangolins, tiger, hornbills and primates in an effort to tackle illegal wildlife trade. Viet Nam is as a major source, transit, and consumer country for illegal wildlife products, making it an important target for efforts to reduce consumer demand.
The national curriculum initiative between animal charity Humane Society International, the Viet Nam Management Authority for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Ministry of Education and Training, will teach children about species conservation and threats in the hope of instilling the next generation of Vietnamese citizens with an appreciation for wildlife, leading to a decline in consumption of products such as rhino horn, elephant ivory, and tiger bone.
The illegal wildlife trade is a $26-billion-dollar black market trade, the fourth largest after drugs, arms and human trafficking. Based on publicly available seizure data, Viet Nam has been implicated in over 600 seizures linked to illegal wildlife in the last 15 years. This includes 105.72 tonnes of ivory, equivalent to more than 15,779 dead elephants; 1.69 tonnes of horn estimated to be sourced from up to 610 rhinos; skins, bones and other products sourced from at least 228 tigers; and the bodies and scales of 65,510 pangolins. In July this year, more than 125kg of smuggled rhino horns, worth around $7.5million, were seized in Vietnam in one of the biggest wildlife trafficking cases ever seen in south-east Asia.
HSI has been working with the government of Viet Nam since 2013 on a national, government-led campaign to reduce demand for rhino horn in the country. The first component of this multi-faceted campaign focused on public awareness, and has reached an estimated 36 million people. This second component saw the development of a teachers’ guide and series of lessons focused on iconic, priority threatened species such as rhinos, elephants and pangolins.
Phuong Tham, director of Humane Society International in Viet Nam, said: “When it comes to consumer demand for illegally traded wildlife, Viet Nam is one of the most significant countries in the world and so if we are to have any hope of changing the mindset of Vietnamese citizens, we have to start in the classroom as early as possible. Our project has the potential to instill appreciation for wild animals among generations to come by changing attitudes towards the consumption of wildlife and how this trade can threaten the very survival of iconic species.”
The curriculum project was rolled out in Viet Nam with a pilot involving 15,000 students in over 50 schools in 10 provinces across the country. Surveys of students before and after the project, and a control group of students who did not take part, showed that children receiving the wildlife lessons had significantly higher knowledge about the threats to wild animals, including what human activities are contributing to their extinction.
HSI’s education work in Viet Nam came to the attention of His Royal Highness Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, in 2016 when he visited a primary school in Ha Noi that was part of a government-led and HSI-supported campaign to reduce demand for rhino horn. The child-centered campaign taught students about rhino poaching concerns and conservation efforts, dispelling the myth that rhino horn has medicinal value, and asking children to be rhino protection ambassadors in their families. As part of this campaign, copies of a book created by HSI for Vietnamese children called “I’m a Little Rhino” were distributed to nearly 1.5 million school children in Viet Nam. Other books in the HSI series include “I’m a Little Elephant,” “I’m a Little Pangolin,” and “I’m a Little Tiger,” all of which are species now be included for the first time in curriculum-based teaching.
Ms. Duong Nhung, a teacher at Quynh Loi Primary school, said: “This curriculum provides us with a great opportunity to learn about wildlife and the most commonly illegally traded endangered species. Each lesson is designed creatively with simple language and fun and interactive activities. I personally feel excited about this kind of curriculum to inspire children to love animals and never think of consuming wildlife products.”
Chan Nguyen, aged 10, from Tan Son Nhi Primary school, said: “I’m looking forward to learning more about wildlife and threatened species. Last year, I watched a video series of “I’m a little …” and other videos in the curriculum about the rhino, elephant, tiger and marine turtle. This was the first time my classmates and I learned that we humans are part of the Earth and we should take care of wildlife to protect them against extinction. I will tell my parents and relatives to stop buying and using wildlife products as that is the way humans are killing animals and pushing them to extinction. I would love to see them live freely and happily in the wild.”
Download photos of the school children and curriculum materials here.