Surrounding Phong Nha – Ke Bang world natural heritage site many restaurants have wild animals on the menu. According to advertisements in restaurant windows, wild animal meat, priced at VND200, 000-VND250, 000 per kilogram, can cure asthma, gout, and even mental disease.
Wild animal meat at natural heritage site
|Monkey meat always available at restaurants in Quy Dat Town, Minh Hoa District, Quang Binh Province.|
On the recommendation of a friend, I decided to visit Son Trach Commune, Bo Trach District, central Quang Binh Province to sample wild animal meat.
The commune is well known in Quang Binh as the home of Phong Nha – Ke Bang natural heritage site, but it also boasts a number of restaurants selling ‘specialty’ meat.
Restaurants in the commune post staff along Ho Chi Minh Highway to promote their wild meat products to passers-by.
On my way to the commune, a Huong Giang Restaurant employee stopped me and handed me a card advertising the restaurant’s ‘specialties from the sea and the forest’.
“Please visit my restaurant because Huong Giang has the most wonderful cuisines processed from meat of wild animals,” he encouraged.
In Son Trach Commune itself, I was invited to taste a wide selection of wild animal meat and after some deliberation I opted for a small restaurant near the Ho Chi Minh Highway.
“Wild animal meat is always on the menu at my restaurant, but if you come in a group porcupine and civet are the most suitable. One kilogram of porcupine or civet is only VND250, 000, with blood and gall which can cure asthma, gout and mental disease,” said a man named ‘P’.
Making excuses that the restaurant was too crowded, I left and headed for Huong Giang restaurant. There a civet and a 6kg porcupine had just been slaughtered and were being prepared into various dishes to serve a group of people, at a price of nearly VND3mil.
According to one of the waiters, they bought the civet from a local hunter for VND800, 000, and the porcupine cost about the same.
Sensing my hesitation, the restaurant owner said: “We have stag, deer, boar, porcupine, and civet and we’re ready to serve you now!”
I ordered grilled boar and in less than ten minutes a waiter appeared from the kitchen carrying my food.
After a thoroughly enjoyable feed, I left Huong Giang restaurant and ambled around the centre of Son Trach Commune.
At S.S restaurant, the owners advertisement read: “My restaurant offers wild animal meat at reasonable prices, only VND200, 000 for a kilogram of porcupine, VND250, 000 for a kilogram of civet meat on the bone, and VND150, 000 for a kilogram of boar off the bone”.
When I suggest to the owner that the prices are too high he explains: “It’s because my restaurant is located near Phong Nha – Ke Bang natural heritage site.”
Eating wild animal meat considered ‘civilised’
Apart from large-scale restaurants offering wild animal meat, many people sell the meat in the area surrounding Phong Nha – Ke Bang and in other districts of Quang Binh such as Tuyen Hoa, Minh Hoa, Quang Trach, Bo Trach, Quang Ninh and, Le Thuy, where eating wild animal meat is considered ‘civilised’.
|Hunter Ho Cuong with the head of a sao la.|
Leo Botrill, an expert from Fauna and Flora International (FFI), says: “Wild animals are smuggled and slaughtered under the support and ignorance of state cadres. In some cases, village and commune officials are wild animal traders. In Quy Dat Town, there is a policeman who is also the owner of a restaurant that sells wild animal meat”.
I decided to go to Quy Dat to verify Botrill’s claims and on further investigation everything he said was true. The restaurant, owned by a policeman, is the biggest in town and a favourite hangout of local officials.
Whenever talking about wild animal meat, residents in Dong Hoi talk about Quan Quan, Hong Hai, and My Hue, viewed as the top three restaurants in the area. Quan Quan (Champion) uses its name to allude to the fact that it is ‘number one’.
Everyday Quan Quan welcomes hundreds of customers and is so popular that there are two roads leading to the restaurant, one for customers and another for transporting wild animals.
I got in touch with the proprietor using the number noted on the restaurant’s sign and asked him about the selection of wild animals available on his menu, the owner said that boar blood curds, civet, porcupine, and monkey are always available.
My Hue Restaurant has wild animals in cages at the front of the restaurant so that customers can choose the animals they want. Hong Hai attracts customers by serving special dishes.
Customers at both restaurants are mainly officials. It is estimated that Dong Hoi customers consume 1,825 boars, equivalent to 500kg of meat, 6,025 civets, and 9,125 wild tortoises per year.
In Quang Binh 16 stags are slaughtered, and 11 tonnes of dried monkey meat (8kg of fresh meat is equivalent to 1kg of dried meat) are consumed each year.
Where do the wild animals come from?
Hunters in Xuan Trach Commune, Bo Trach District often go hunting in Cha Noi forest, Minh Hoa District; hunters in Phuc Trach Commune often go to U Bo Forest in Quang Ninh District; and hunters in Thuong Hoa Commune, who hunt with guns, favour Phu Nhieu forest.
All of these forests are in the Phong Nha – Ke Bang natural heritage area. Hunters from other regions often go hunting in more remote forests like Khe Net in Tuyen Hoa District and Khe Nuoc Trong in Le Thuy District. Each hunter earns around VND900, 000 – VND1, 500,000 per month; meanwhile wild animals in Quang Binh hopelessly cry for help.
A hunter named Ho Cuong in Rum Village, Kim Thuy Commune, Le Thuy District, showed me his hunting talent by setting traps in the forest. Two days later he brought back a hill partridge, an endemic bird species, and a flecked rabbit, also an endemic species.
Cuong boasted that he had killed a brown hornbill, an animal that is currently facing global extinction, and also said that he has hunted several sao la, thought to be extinct, but re discovered in the wild at the end of the 20th century. As proof, Cuong produced a sao la head as a trophy.
It is a sad fact in Vietnam that wild animals are being killed everyday in Quang Binh, as they cry out desperately for help.