A science journalist’s on-the-ground observations about the threatened wildlife of Vietnam and efforts to discover hitherto-unknown species and to protect rapidly disappearing ones.
In his debut, Drollette chronicles his experiences in Vietnam, describing not a mineral gold rush, but a biological one. He interviewed wildlife biologists currently working there, quotes earlier researchers and delves into the history and present conditions of the once–war-torn country. His primary focus is the Endangered Primate Rescue Center, run by Tilo Nadler, a German zoologist, and his Vietnamese wife. A prologue sets the scene, describing the rare mammals recently found in Vietnam and raising questions for which Drollette seeks answers: How did they survive there? What will happen to them under such present stresses as economic progress, population growth, deforestation and poaching? The author first visited Vietnam in 1998, an experience that he briefly covers in the first part, but his return more than a decade later provides the book’s core. He finds that Vietnam’s unique and once-hidden animal life is now vulnerable to exploitation, and their numbers are dwindling; there are, however, signs of progress that give hope: Nadler’s work on protecting langurs, for example, has expanded greatly since Drollette’s previous visit. Besides trying to uncover the effects of Agent Orange and other chemicals dumped on Vietnam during the war, the author exposes the massive illegal marketing of wild animal parts much in demand for use in Asian medicines. Drollette also reports on efforts to protect turtles in a lake in Hanoi and of the work of Hawaii’s National Tropical Garden in preserving rare plants. These accounts are certainly informative, but they seem misplaced here. The book’s principle flaw is that at times it reads more like a patchwork of previously published feature articles than a single cohesive work.
Generally well-researched and -written, but somewhat unfocused and repetitive.