Conservation Now, Apocalypse Postponed

Talking about wildlife conservation these days can bring about a certain amount of gloom. Poachers are killing off elephants for their tusks faster than you can say fire back. Habitats are being decimated to meet new demands generated by the spread of consumer culture. Everywhere you look, some of the world’s most majestic creatures are being wiped out by humanity’s merciless encroaching and boundless greed.

Amid this scenario of devastation, there are some people who devote their lives, some with more success than others, to preserve wildlife, or specific species. One of them is Tido Nadler, an East German who by a twist of fate ended up founding and managing one of the most successful wildlife conservation projects in Vietnam, the Endangered Primate Rescue Center. ERPC is in Cuc Phuong National Park, southwest of Hanoi, Vietnam, and its work is focused on the rehabilitation, breeding, research, and conservation of endangered primates, and the protection of their habitats.

ERPC is also the narrative hub of American journalist Dan Drollette Jr.’s Gold Rush in the Jungle, an account of the writer’s trips and accumulated knowledge of Vietnam’s byzantine and riveting world of conservation as well as the gargantuan difficulties faced by those who decide to roll up their sleeves and do something to save what’s left.

Vietnam is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, but its natural wealth is also greatly jeopardized by the country’s rapid development, new demands for animal parts and wood. Against this wild, dangerous backdrop, Nadler’s story is fit for the plot of an action movie, an inspiring and exemplary dedication to save some f the most endangered primates in the world, among them the douc langur monkey.

Vietnam is a place where new species are still been “discovered” by science. It’s also a country where bears are subjected to unimaginable pain in bile farms and some people may be partial to eating the brain of a monkey who’s still alive. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Drollette uses a magazine writing style to weave an energetic, detailed narrative that gives the reader a lot of contextualization about Vietnam, the culture, the country’s relationship with the U.S. in the wake of what they locally call The American War and a realistic (as in, warts and all) view of the work to preserve some of the world’s biological wonders.

Gold Rush in the Jungle sometimes overwhelms the reader with too much information. The author’s voice, although often bubbly and passionate, sometimes gets a little loud. However, Drollette does have a talent to evoke atmosphere and to describe what he’s seen in photo-like fashion. His book reminds reminders that behind any action, there’s always a person. The work carried out by those brave conservationists he’s encountered along the years is nothing short of heroic and their dedication to preserving life is indeed an example for all of us, who, from the comfort of our homes, can often only help by making the right consumer choices.

Is it an optimistic or pessimistic book? Drollette’s rings out a realist note. He provides no false hopes but makes us believe that the effort to preserve the world’s biodiversity is worth our time, is morally the right thing to do simply because the natural world has an intrinsic value. Preserving the planet is not an utilitarian endeavor, but also a ethical imperative.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.

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