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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)

Biodiversity conservation in Indochina: integrating research and training to enhance wildlife trade management

PI:  Minh Le (, Central Institute for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies of Vietnam National University (VNU-CRES), with co-PIs Seak Sophat, Royal University of Phnom Penh, and Sengdeuane Wayakone, National University of Laos
U.S. Partner: Mary Blair, The American Museum of Natural History
Project Dates: September 2014 to February 2018
3-149 Loris
One of the biggest direct threats to biodiversity in Indochina is the illegal wildlife trade, which has driven many species to the brink of extinction. This problem will likely get worse without immediate and effective measures to control the trade. Conservation efforts in the region have been hindered by the lack of understanding about the pattern, scale, and drivers of the trade. A more comprehensive approach is therefore critically needed to characterize the trade network, and design cost effective conservation measures. In this project, the research team will address issues related to the trade by surveying wildlife markets and by strengthening the existing research and conservation activities between Indochinese countries, such as Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The research team will build capacity in conservation genetics, forensic science, and socioeconomic analyses of trade activities, as these skills are critically needed to tackle this complex threat in the region. The project has three main aims: (1) clarify the scale and drivers of the wildlife trade through market surveys in Indochina; (2) develop a DNA database for all protected animal species in Indochina for trade monitoring and enforcement; and (3) strengthen existing research in the conservation genetics of lorises, muntjacs, and turtles to identify unique lineages in groups under the highest harvesting pressure.

The research project will expand on Dr. Mary Blair’s research project through the development of a biodiversity research network across Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia for coordinated data collection, DNA database mapping, and capacity building. The project will also add in-depth studies of key trade-targeted species beyond lorises, including muntjacs and turtles. Dr. Blair will work closely with the research team on field surveys, genetic analyses of the lorises, and the development of socioeconomic data collection and analysis methods to enable coordination of these methods across the PEER and NSF projects, thus expanding their collective impact. The project directly targets biodiversity conservation, an important development objective of USAID. The research results of the project will help enhance wildlife trade management in Indochina and thus better conserve biodiversity at the regional level. Critical information on the pattern, scale, and drivers of the trade will influence the development of effective conservation measures and wildlife trade policy, which in turn will mitigate impacts of the trade among three nations. Furthermore, research skills and capacity developed during the project will help sustain conservation efforts in the region in the future.

Summary of Recent Activities

3-149 Muntjac
The PI Dr. Le traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in November 2017 to visit the project's co-PI, Dr. Seak Sophat and to participate in a workshop on November 14 entitled “Saving Species on the Edge of Extinction: Building Capacity to Find and Protect the Mekong's Most Imperiled Wildlife.” This workshop brought together various stakeholders from three countries in Indochina to discuss different approaches to conserve wildlife in the region. Dr. Le’s presentation entitled “Biodiversity Conservation in Indochina: Applying Genetic Data to Enhancing Wildlife Trade Management in Vietnam,” outlined the approach developed during the PEER project to tackling the wildlife trade by employing detailed genetic data.

On December 8, 2017, Dr. Le and his co-PIs organized the final workshop on the project, which was held at the Central Institute for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES) in Hanoi. The workshop was entitled “Wildlife Trade in Indochina: Applications of Research Results to Combating Wildlife Trade,” and during the event project participants presented data and results to an audience including more than 40 different researchers and government and NGO officials. Organizations represented included the Wildlife Conservation Society, Asian Turtle Program, USAID, USAID Saving Species program, the U.S. Embassy, universities, research institutions, and the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. In addition to the presentations, lively discussions ensued regarding approaches developed during the project for potential applications to enhance wildlife management.

In the last weeks of the project before it is set to end as of February 28, 2018, the team will wrap up sample sequencing, submit pending manuscripts to journals, and upload their remaining sequences to their DNA database, which now consists of one of the most comprehensive sets of DNA sequences for protected vertebrates in Vietnam and Indochina. Their paper “Application of Microsatellite to Population Genetic Study of the Crocodile Lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus Ahl, 1930) in Vietnam” was recently published in a special issue of the Journal of Science VNU (Earth and Environment).

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