The series of “Investigative Reportage: Wild animal killing tricks” created by a group of reporters of Dan Viet newspaper reveals to readers the inside details of the illegal wildlife hunting and trafficking “business” of the criminals. For more than a year of close follow-up and investigative contact, reporters have witnessed with their own eyes a fierce world, the massacre of wild animals, and the cruelty and trampling on the laws of smugglers.
For more than a year of preparing costumes, equipment, and “learning” the knowledge of wild animal traders, the reporters role-played as an owner of a restaurant chain that serves “Wild animals specialties,” searching for a huge supply source. The reporters witnessed a fierce world: the massacre of wild animals to the last individual and trampling on moral and legal regulations. The destinations of all the transports in this article only cover Vinh City (Nghe An), along the “legendary” national highway 7: through Dien Chau, Yen Thanh, Do Luong, Anh Son, Con Cuong, Tuong Duong, and Ky Son districts, to the border between Vietnam and Laos. Within just a section of the road in one of the 63 provinces of Vietnam has been like this. Have we, as humans, ever questioned what left of the natural property left for our children, other than a bitter and shameful “extermination”?
Huge traps and gigantic guns. Cauldrons cook tiger and lion bone glue and rhinoceros skin glue under hundreds of degrees, secured by an iron lock and cameras monitoring the “billion-dollar glue pot” under the desiring eyes of many wealthy people for 3 days and nights. The gangsters with strong muscles and dark tattoos all over the body carry on their neck gold bars and tiger fangs as big as bananas. Wasted drinking parties where they devoted themselves to alcohol, girls, and wild meat. Digging deeper into the investigation, we met people who “ate from the forest, then shed tears” in the literal sense as the elders have taught: “When nature is provoked, people are in pain because they have put their hands in handcuffs.
EPISODE 1: TRICKS THAT SEND ALL WILD ANIMALS IN THE RED LIST TO “HEAVEN”
At that time, we were playing the role of a “player” or a “trader” in the world of wildlife trading. It has never been so difficult. The Prime Minister has just issued Directive 29 on banning the trade of wild animals, destroying illegal sites across the country; Nghe An province also took action to handle it. Thousands of Nghe An people signed pledges not to kill, trade, and eat wild animals. Subjects began to withdraw into secret activities. They took advantage of social media sophisticatedly to transact, with little direct contact.
“Tycoons” in the 4.0 era
They thoroughly checked each person’s identity. Principle: whoever introduces newcomers to the “playground,” that initial person must be someone the traders know well, such as a home address, friends, and family (if revenge is to be carried out). Therefore, we have had many investigations that have never been published in the newspaper or even cooperated with the forest police to handle them. For that reason, we had to print a “card-visit” stating that we were the owner of a specialty restaurant chain with a fake address, a phone number which was a “virtual sim with someone else’s name,” and a fake Zalo account with photoshopped pictures of parties eating wild animals and selling forest goods.
Through many spine-chilling “background checks,” we shared a drinking table with Minh (the character’s name has been changed), a wild animal dealer in Dien Chau district, Nghe An province. Like many other transnational wildlife traders, Minh was forged through conflicts with forces in many countries and territories, so he is experienced.
Minh has a large restaurant named after himself and his son. He sells all kinds of items that violate Vietnamese law as well as the Prime Minister’s Directive. After “trusting” each other, Minh revealed his true form as a “shocking” wild goods trading “group.” If he has the good in stock, he will send pictures immediately.
“I caught the civet with a shotgun. The civet has a broken leg. The trap is still attached to its leg. I’ll send you the video to see it struggling. If you are interested, I can make 7 dishes with it. For pangolins, I will cut blood and make seven dishes”. Then, Minh took out his expensive phone and showed us a video of the rare and innocent animal, the one that if you trade only an individual, you can face criminal charges, struggling and bleeding…
Minh’s restaurant is not far from Muong Thanh Ecological Area (Dien Chau district). The cages are where the wild animals live. The civets have broken legs due to huge traps. Frozen bush meat, of course, is primary.
Source of Image: Dan Viet
We walked inside the restaurant. The cameras had to be hidden very carefully. We tried to keep ourselves calm and must have an acquaintance to lead us in. Everywhere in the area of Minh and people like Minh are installed with a surveillance camera rig. Suppose they get suspicious after the guests leave. In that case, they will extract the video and scrutinize every detail and the guests’ “bewildered” behavior. They used all kinds of tricks to test my identity. The most sophisticated one was to suddenly ask about the price of the wild animals that a “specialty restaurant owner” (who was me, the role-playing journalist), who was looking for a supplier, buys. “Bear hand, all four, how much do you pay?” “How much will you pay for a kg of civets?” “What about ferrets?” “Ah, since trading within Hanoi, do you know that Khang still takes goods from Mo Dam Bich?”
Suddenly, he showed off his “scales.” In the North Central Vietnamese language, it is called ‘trut.’ In everyday language, we know them as ‘pangolins.’ Then Minh suddenly asked: “Out there, what do you guys make for guests?” “How much do the scales cost?”.
If you are not from within the wild animal trafficking “industry” (or have been well trained), you are guaranteed to be ripped off by Minh after a single note.
The house is full of stuffed animals, eagles, raptors of all kinds standing majestically. Below are leopards, green-eyed wildcats with their teeth threatening. Minh waved his hand: “All these are the goods that I kill. I keep them as souvenirs. Just a hobby of a collector, you know!” In particular, in Minh’s phone, many videos describe scenes of him cutting blood and processing all kinds of dishes from pangolins and many wild animals. At the peak, Minh made a phone call. Someone came by car and brought in a pangolin weighing more than 3kg and still curling up. Sometimes, the pangolin poked the head out bewilderedly, looking at… the buckets of dishes on the drinking table.
A group of guests came, chased, and then used an iron rod to beat a civet to death in a large iron cage containing many other animals. The civet was limping before because he was caught in a trap and crushed his foot.
Minh ordered his men to cut the blood and cook the civet while explaining the mechanism of wildlife trade and bypassing the authorities. Minh said that hunters in this area went to the forest to find wild animals to sell. Animals from Laos and many other dishes “for the rich” are from Africa. You can find anything here.
Source of Image: Dan Viet
“Just read about the pangolin traffickers being caught online, and you’ll see me.”
Minh called many of his “acquaintances,” including his brother, named Hai, to check what kind of person the guest was. All of those guys were tall and tattooed. Many of them are long-time settlers in Laos to “do business.” Minh’s brother confidently patted his chest, drank half a glass of wine, which was as big as a beer glass: “You don’t need to ask about me, just read the online newspaper. I’m “famous.” The trade to China case, the arrest in Quang Ninh, and many other big cases. I do not give a damn. I still sit here and drink with you. The idea of happiness or suffering is totally up to you.”
Minh boasted that he had a modern hunting gun. After “studying” it, we recognized CPC, probably worth tens of millions of dong, the “famous” type. Minh’s brother insisted on leaving the drinking table to show the guests a “whole basket of hands of bears.” All of them were hairy claws. I have seen a similar set of 4 bear hands in the nearby commune, so I confidently said: “I am too familiar with these. The problem is whether you are willing to sell them for less than 16 million VND/hand. If yes, I’ll buy it. If not, we’ll reconsider it. Hai understood. Then, he sat down and bragged about all the tricks to transport the wild goods from Laos to Vietnam and China. Minh said: “If so, I’ll bring you a pangolin then.”
I agreed. The party was not over. Minh’s wife was pretty and young in the kitchen, just sitting and describing the items available at home. The young chef was killing a civet. The innocent animal’s head was severed and grilled. Its eyes were bulging, and its teeth were white. A few long, unshaven black mustaches were still there, making the animal that had just been murdered look cunning. It was a tragically funny scene.
A few minutes later, in that “discreet” kitchen, a guy brought in a pale green sack. He said: “3 million VND/kg of living pangolins. This one is 4kg.” – “What is it?” – “Scales.” This is their evasive, cue-like way of answering to prevent eavesdropping. This forest animal has scales, the black market price is very expensive. It is listed by scientists and conservationists as one of the most hunted and traded wildlife species globally. Whoever sells and transports only an individual of this species can face criminal charges. Minh said proudly: “My guest. After eating up all the meat and bones of the poor animal, it is what they weigh, count, and hide the most carefully to bring back here is this set of scales!”.
Thanks to the scales, the pangolins can dig tunnels and cross mountains to find food, dig burrows, or run away from “natural enemies,” or the most dangerous enemies: “hunters”. Blindly believing in the strength of the animal that it can dig through mountains by the scales, Chinese and Vietnamese people (along with hunting it for meat) are willing to spend a lot of money to hunt down scales for “panacea.”
Back to the story, Minh and the pangolin seller asked me: “How many are you taking?” My friend backed me up: “Just one to try. If we like it, we’ll get more later”. They removed the pangolin from the sack. It was curled up and stiff. They grabbed the gentle animal by the tail and tried to shake it to not curl up anymore. The strong man grabbed his tail and gave it a swish. The pangolin stretched to forty-five centimeters long with its scales, head, legs, and tail like a prehistoric animal. Then, the pangolin shrinks again, like a coil of cable or a rough ball. They put him on the scale. The deal was closed.
Despite the conservation efforts of the civilized human race, in this restaurant and many others that we surveyed, they killed pangolins very often. They cut the blood for soup and record videos. During our investigation, the Environmental Crime Investigation Police Department, Nghe An Provincial Police, continuously arrested many cases of trafficking and transporting pangolins in the area. With the investigation documents about the dealers’ group above, the reporters officially reported to the provincial police leadership, worked directly with the Head of PC05, and led the investigator to scout.
On August 1, 2021, in Dien Chau district, Nghe An province, right at the “place” where the subjects trade wild animals, the Environmental Police Department, Nghe An Police suddenly rushed in to inspect and seize 4 pangolins alive while trading. The “boss” of the wild animals’ trade was handcuffed. The 4 rare animals protected globally, known globally as “pangolins,” were saved before going to the drinking table. They were transferred to the Wildlife Rescue Center of Pu Mat National Park for care and rescue. After that, they will be released back to their natural habitat. The case is still under investigation.
Source of Image: Dan Viet
Source: Dan Viet Newspaper