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Vietnam man’s journey from poacher to forest protector

Friday, January 26, 2018, 10:34 GMT+7

Once a self-proclaimed poacher, a man from central Vietnam is now a devoted ranger who dedicates his life to the protection of his hometown’s forest and the animals that dwell in it.

Truong Cam was only a teenager when he started to accompany his father on his hunting trips into the Bach Ma National Park in Thua Thien-Hue Province, located in the central region.

The national park, covering 220 square kilometers of protected area near the city of Hue, is home to a diverse range of Vietnamese endemics and endangered species.

The father and son duo would use mantraps to catch unsuspecting animals in the forest, a job at which Cam excelled thanks to his unique gift of accurately mimicking the calling sounds of birds using only his mouth and hands.

Cam could imitate the sounds of 200 different species of birds to such accuracy that every time he would begin to whistle, the entire forest would erupt in the sound of the bird he was mimicing.

However, Cam’s life took a different turn on that fateful day when he found a monkey breastfeeding her young despite being trapped in his snare.

The touching sight moved him to tears and prompted Cam to free the animal and give up poaching.

Truong Cam demonstrates his bird whispering skills. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Truong Cam demonstrates his bird whispering skills. Photo: Tuoi Tre

A new beginning

On a winter afternoon long after his withdrawal from poaching, Huynh Van Keo, director of the Bach Ma National Park met Cam. He asked him if he wanted to do something good for the forest by doing what he did best: communicating with animals.

Cam was 17 years old when he accepted the offer in 1988.

Over the last 30 years, he has helped to free countless birds and other animals from poachers’ traps and inspired many like him to give up the illegal livelihood using his own emotional story.

The 47-year-old ranger would use his bird-like whistles to lure poachers to his location before persuading them to retire from the job by telling them his encounter with the mother monkey.

“Many who’ve heard the story couldn’t hold back their tears. Some of them destroyed their own traps and vowed to never poach again,” Cam said.

Not only is Cam a bird whisperer, he is also known for being a human encyclopedia of all plants in the Bach Ma National Park.

“Out of the park’s over 600 species of plants, 333 can be used for medicinal purposes,” Cam said.

Outside of his working time, Cam runs a ‘Little Rangers’ club of about 80 members who are elementary students in Thua Thien-Hue to teach the children about the importance of forest protection.

“My colleagues were skeptical about my decision to employ Cam, as they were aware of his past. But I took him in anyway, convinced that he was a good man. I couldn’t have been more right,” said Bach Ma director Huynh Van Keo.

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