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In the national park with e-bikes – TCM responsible for the extinction of rare animal species – Animal torture and being lost

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On a narrow, less-frequented road, we are cycling southward along the banks of Dong Nai. After 20 kilometers, we reach the advertised ferry station. We roll our bikes down a dusty track towards the riverbank and onto a ferry boat that’s already waiting there. Apart from us, there are a couple of mopeds, a small tractor, and passengers on the iron platform. No sooner have we found a place for ourselves than the decrepit boat sails off. We buy tickets from a man for 10,000 Dongs (0.42 euros). Just a few minutes later, the heap of rust settles against the opposite bank, and everything that has wheels starts puttering off board once again. As planned, we follow the narrow road along the banks. Just after a few meters from the place, it turns into a dirt track filled with potholes. The village is hardly behind us when jungle-trees start arching their green branches over the path. A staircase-like landscape is spread to our left, claimed by a herd of water buffaloes for themselves. I lean my bike against a tree and sneak into the bushes to photograph them. A young bull raises his head and senses my scent. A rope in his nostrils tells me that he is domesticated. And yet, he lets a sense of danger rise within me. ‘See to it that you get out of here’, I feel his words in my head, and I slowly fall back. Continuing on our way, the jungle on both the sides of the track goes on becoming denser and denser. “I think, there are no more check posts now”, I rejoice to have so easily been able to enter the Cat Tien National Park with our bikes. “It’s better if we put Ajaci in the trailer, in case a check post still appears behind the next curve and they tell us that dogs aren’t allowed in the national park”, Tanja suggests. In the meantime, the trail has become properly overgrown. At merely a walking speed, we are jolting over a mesh of roots of trees and bushes. “What’s that there up ahead?”, Tanja’s shout pulls me out of my meditation of steering my bike safely over the underground. “I can’t believe this. There is a barrier in the middle of the forest.” As we reach the opening in the fence, we are stopped by a Vietnamese man. His hand gestures are not to be mistaken; he tells us that we can’t go on further. We are friendly and still taking it positively. We show him our visiting card and try to explain to him that we’ve cycled all the way from Germany up to the national park on our bikes. “You have to turn around”, we understand the watchman say, his stare grim. We stand our ground and point towards the way. “We are taking the ferry at the center of the jungle and going to the other side of the river.” The man shakes his head unambiguously and dials a number on his shabby smartphone. As a voice answers his call, he hands me the thing with a broken display. A woman tries to explain to me anew, in bad English, that we are not allowed to ride further. “What? I don’t understand”, I say and hand the phone back to the forest guard. He shouts something unintelligible, whereupon a young girl creeps out of the simple hut, which is not far from the fence, and saunters towards us. Even she types something into her smartphone and shows it to me. “It is now allowed to drive through here”, I read. “Why not?” Although it’s become clear to me meanwhile that I am banging my head on a rock here, we stay there resolutely and promise ourselves to leave the national park on its other side. “I believe, this is pointless. Let’s turn around!”, I say to Tanja, as the watchman dials yet another number on his phone. “Okay, we’ll let you through, but when you reach the administration building of our park, you have to pay the entry fees and a day’s charges for the bikes”, the male voice says in good English. “Even though we are riding our own bikes?”, I probe into it. “Yes. If it’s alright with you, my watchman will let you through.” “It’s totally okay with us”, I answer and give the phone back to the watchman. He gifts us a smile for the first time now, opens the barrier, and lets us into one of Vietnam’s most important national parks. “It’s unbelievable what one is able to do only when one really wants to”, says Tanja, as we are now able to explore the national park with our own bikes. It protects the largest remaining tropical lowland rainforest, 41% of the endangered animal species on the Red List, and approx. 20% of the species found in Vietnam.

It’s hot, the sun burning down from the firmament. Even though we possess e-bikes, we are sweating profusely. Since it’s around noon, no animal is in sight, neither large nor small. Although, there are supposed to be approx. 25 elephants here. Now and then, we come across a Common Kingfisher or one of the gorgeous Great Indian Hornbills. The chirping of cicadas is so loud in some parts that our ears go numb from it. Even though 99% of the ancient jungle was destroyed by the American defoliation attacks, a few of the regions at least seem to the eyes to have recovered. However, no trees grow to date except bamboo and grass in the heavily affected parts. “That’s one of the affected areas!”, I shout at Tanja, as we see flat grasslands stretched on both the sides of the bumpy track. It was in the year 1992 that the extremely rare Java Rhinoceros was discovered here. Since one was sure that the rhinos in this region had gone extinct years ago, this sensational discovery brought the national park international attention and financial aide. In 2010, the last Java Rhinoceros was found dead. “As far as I know, it was shot dead by poachers for its horn”, I tell Tanja during a short break, my glance wandering over the stretches of grass. “It seems that the traditional Chinese medicine has also been responsible for the extinction and endangerment of rare animal species”, Tanja ponders. “Absolutely! Medicine is actually supposed to be something positive. But when certain species are wiped out for its production and additionally, our animal congeners suffer greatly, my opinion is that the medicine has totally lost its purpose and justification. For millennia, the TCM has been using approx. 1500 animal species and 5000 plant varieties to cure sicknesses of all kinds. We have experienced ourselves that in Southern China, different kinds of animals are still being consumed and at the same time being pulverized to land on the shelves of innumerable pharmacies. Through this, mainly the animals that are deemed to be especially ‘strong’ or to possess special powers have become endangered”, I explain. “Why do they do that?” “Allegedly, the powers that one ascribes to these animals pass into the human body when one eats them.” “Then rhinos, tigers, bears surely belong to the category”, Tanja ponders. “Yes, exactly! Their large size and strength became their own doom because they went extinct or are dangerously close to eradication through the merciless hunting in Vietnam and in the entire Asia. But it affects not only the large animals but even millions of sea horses or snakes that are killed in masses because they are supposed to make one’s life longer. The same goes for the type of pangolins to which a certain kind of tenacity is ascribed. Even the penises of seals are mixed into the so-called ‘Dragon Pills’. Or the horns of the endangered Saiga-antilopes, which serve the same purpose as those of rhinos, are processed in large quantities to be used as medicine. So much so that the global population of these animals has sunk by 90% in the last 25 years.” “It’s simply unbelievable that we, the people of the 21st century, are still exterminating our animal world.” “The root of the problem is that the population in Asia is on constant rise and with it the economy. What it means is that there are always more people who can afford something. Many start with simple rice farming and make it into the middle class. They continuously strengthen the TCM through that because they are familiar only with this healing method through their own millennia-old history. They believe in it and can afford expensive products. It’s a horrible vicious circle that doesn’t allow the animals of our beautiful planet a single chance of survival.” “I can’t understand the governments. They have take action against this total sellout of our planet. They have to understand that the destruction of the animal world on our Mother Earth will eventually annihilate the human species, too.” “Well, as far as I’ve researched, they are doing something against it. In China, for example, there’s a 10-year prison sentence for those who eat endangered animals and 3 years of prison for those who knowingly buy illegally hunted animals.” “Don’t make me laugh! Do you still remember how they were offering us the skins of snow leopards in the streets of Erenhot completely officially?” “Of course, I remember.” “So what does a law bring us if no one cares about its implementation? It can’t simply be that people are thrown into jails only for demonstrating against the government or against air pollution and yet get away unscathed when they sell hides of snow leopards?”, Tanja lashes out. “Yes, you are right. One can only tear one’s hair out. I think, the all-encompassing corruption is responsible for that. Too many high officials and influential businessmen are involved in such mafia machinations. They earn heaps of money through that. As far as I know, every third person on the earth uses the traditional medicine, 80% of the 1.35 billion Chinese themselves. The yearly turnover is astronomically large. One conjectures it to be between 7 and 23 billion euros. Imagine this number! How is a corrupt nation supposed to keep such a violent crime under control when the top leaders themselves are the greatest beneficiaries? A nation like Vietnam, for example, which is at the moment the leading country in the import of rhinoceros horns and at the core of of international ivory trade? After a night of drinking alcohol, some of the brainless, super-rich egoists have a drink of powder of rhino horn dissolved in it. Something like that costs 1000 US dollars and shows how potent this fool is. That drink is supposed to fight a hangover or cancer.” “Man, that’s a really messed-up situation. So the fools with their showy demeanor cause the prices of rhino horn to shoot even higher?” “Yes! A 5-kilo horn looks at approx. 280,000 euros on the black market at the moment. It’s higher than the price of gold or cocaine. That’s the reason why all the five types of rhinos, which are still there on our planet, are at an immediate risk of extinction. That’s why the last African black rhinos are kept under vigilance round the clock. It actually goes so far that rangers, accompanied by the best-equipped poachers, lead proper attacks on these rhinos. When one takes into consideration that there were still approx. 100,000 of these black rhinos 116 years ago, and their number is predicted to be around 1500 today, one understands the gravity of the current situation. Even their horns have been sawn off to protect the last of those rhinos. They were still killed because the stump itself fetches an unbelievable amount of money. People have even tried to break into natural history museums to steal the stuffed rhino horns.
The same goes for the remaining global population of tigers (approx. 1500) that is massively endangered. It’s no surprise when one knows that every part of this carnivore can be used in the TCM. A tiger’s individual constituents are treated to be cure-alls. That’s the reason why a dead tiger can fetch approx. 300,000 euros. Since there are fewer tigers in the meantime now, they are being replaced by lions from South Africa. It’ll go on till everything that moves is stuffed into bottles in pulverized form and finds its place on the shelves of pharmacies.

It affects tortoises just as badly, owing to the fact that they play a vital role in the TCM and that one can produce at least 114 medicines out of them. It’s one of the reasons why the number of Indian tortoises has reduced by 90% within a decade and every fourth type of tortoises is acutely endangered today… and all this only because of this Chinese medicine, which is ultimately acting like a curse cast upon our world. Like a tsunami, it is eradicating almost everything that isn’t human. The demand for these medicines has become so great that it has clearly clouded the human brain. It’ll ultimately be one of the things responsible when the bacteria called humans will have consumed their own host, the Earth, because every animal has a task and a purpose in the chain of life. If too many links are missing, the human race will ultimately go down, too, as a result of it. There’s no doubt about it. If humanity wants to survive this madness, it will have to act”, I conclude my speech. “Does the TCM used in Germany also include animal products?”, Tanja breaks our silence. “As far as I know, the products that comprise of processed parts of protected animals are refused.” “Good! At least a little ray of hope! It simply needs to be carried over to the entire world, and the world of animals will be saved.”

Through our conversation, our way of looking at the national park and the rest of its surviving animal dwellers has changed drastically. It takes a while for the sad mood to recede. “Look!”, I shout and point at a Great Indian Hornbill that flies over our heads to disappear into the thick green of a tree giant. The sandy, partly stony path becomes a bit better, and suddenly, it’s covered with layers of concrete. We can cycle well on them. We end up at the administration center and find the building, where we, as promised, buy entry tickets and pay rental charges for our own bicycles. At a restaurant, we buy a dissatisfactory lunch at a ridiculous price. Since Tanja is looking after our bikes and Ajaci, I go alone to look at moon bears. “Are there still wild moon bears in the national park?”, I ask the animal attendant. He shows me and another German tourist around. “No, our bears have unlearnt how to survive in the wilderness. The compound here is a station for the ill-treated bears which we’ve freed from the clutches of their torturers in the last few years.” “Torturers?” “Yeah, The bears lived for the most part on bile farms, where their bile was being removed with the help of a catheter for many years. They spend their entire lives there in small, iron cages. Quite often, they can’t even stand properly in the cages and suffer from colics and abcesses. Since they, like any other living being, need the bile for their own digestive system, it happens quite often that their entire organism collapses. Out of pains or probably despair, they not so seldom bite off their own paws”, I hear him say and feel that I have to wretch.

What I actually want to write about is the beauty of our Mother Earth. About the quality of life, ethnicities, their religions, traditions, the wonderful landscapes in which the people are living, and much more. However, we are confronted more often with the excesses of diseased forms of society. As a messenger of the Mother Earth, I feel the obligation to report these decadent grievances, at least when they become a part of the history experienced by us. It would be unjust, unfair, and naïve to conceal the environmental pollution and atrocities committed by my own human race only to lead people to believe in a beautiful, holy world. In moments like these, I’d simply like to hide myself somewhere. I am ashamed of my fellow humans, of what they do ceaselessly, and I’d like to be a different organism in such moments. I’d like to be someone or something that doesn’t constantly kill, torture, exhaust own resources, and act egoistically, ignorantly and like a racist, up to the point of a sure self-destruction. Naturally, there are many among us who’d never stick a needle in the gall bladder of a living bear just to drain it of bile so as to use it as medicine. But there are still enough people who buy the same medicine and don’t want to know where it comes from or what kind of an unimaginable pain it has caused. Most of the bile farms exist in China. For the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), around 4000 bears in Vietnam and 10,000 bears in China are tormented daily. Many people deem the fluid bile of bears to be a miracle drug. In the meantime, it has become possible to produce the same coveted substance artificially. However, many rich people want the ‘real, fluid thing’. It is clear that they are completely indifferent to the sufferings. For them, the bottom line is that they and their relatives are doing well. Meanwhile, things have started to move in the Chinese population. More and more people are becoming aware of the animal torture and taking a stance against the bile farms. The Chinese are not inhuman. Until now, many Chinese have simply not been properly enlightened, and the industry doesn’t wish for it, either.

“Since we always have to adopt more and more bears, the area has become quite small for them. We are going to build a larger compound for our bears in the near future. Then they’ll have more space to run around”, the animal assistant tells me proudly.

Being back with Tanja, I tell her about my experience. We resume our conversation where we’d ended it a couple of hours ago. “Somehow, all this leaves me feeling helpless. What could one do against all the suffering?! To reach somewhere eventually, one would have to stand up against one of the uncountable atrocities and direct all one’s energy towards ending it.” “Yes, that’s right. But don’t be lose hope! You are making an effort to note down everything. I believe, that itself is a contribution to the cause”, Tanja motivates me. “Do you really think so? I don’t know if it touches anyone. I don’t know if there is any sense in this act.” “Of course there is! So many people don’t know anything about the extraction of bear bile, the violence caused for the TCM, the ivory trade, the widespread pollution all over the world, and everything that we ourselves are coming across on this journey. I think, you are doing a fantastic job, a really great and important work. Who sits on a slippery chair for hundreds of hours and gives an open and credible account of the world? You do that every day. I personally would like to thank you for that.” “Wow, that’s a nice statement! Thank you! It motivates me to continue doing it”, I answer and feel how Tanja’s words are putting me back together.

In a better mood again, we cycle on and find the rapids upstream. We enjoy the solitude on the river Dong Nai and listen to the songs of birds. “Before the sun goes down, we should look for the giant tree?”, Tanja suggests. “What giant tree?” “Well, there was a big signboard on the roadside that there’s supposed to be a giant, ancient tree in the jungle.” “I must’ve overlooked it. But if you want to go there, we have to hurry. The sun will set soon.”

“There it is!”, Tanja points at the green signboard. “I don’t know if we should leave our bikes here unattended”, I say doubtfully. “You go first so that you can take a few photos in the beautiful evening twilight. I’ll go when you come back”, Tanja suggests. I snatch my camera and dart over a narrow forest trail. Since I don’t want to leave Tanja waiting for a long time and it’s getting increasingly darker, I don’t take a lot of time taking photos, even though the forest and its trees around me are fascinating. I reach a small fork on the track. “That must be the way back”, the thought crosses my mind, since I conjecture that my path leads to the ‘forest giants’ and the other one come back to the fork in a curve. I keep going along the main track and reach, heavily panting, after about 200 meters the miracle of nature which survived the poison attacks of the Americans. Spellbound, I stand in front of the roots, good 2 meters tall, like a wall rising from the forest ground. To catch a glimpse of the tree crown, I let my neck fall backward. High up, it’s swaying in a light wind, which is not to be felt down here at all. I would love to spend some more time here, but Tanja’s is waiting for me. On my last circumambulation of the tree, I discover the other track. I follow it so that I don’t have to go the same way twice as well as to see something new. After five minutes of brisk marching, I start wondering how I haven’t reached the way that would lead me to the giant tree. ‘Have I missed it? Ah, no, it can’t be so’, the thought shoots through my head. In a goose-step, I hurry on. According to my sense of time, I should’ve reached the small main track minutes ago. ‘But who knows, maybe I am already on it and haven’t realized it?’ I continue to hasten. After ten minutes, everything starts looking completely unfamiliar to me. I call out Tanja’s name because I was supposed to be in the vicinity of the main track long ago. However, there is no sound to perceive except that of cicadas and a couple of birds. ‘Should I keep walking? Does it make sense? Am I actually lost? Man, it can’t simply be?’ Somewhat nervously, I sprint a hundred meters more in the dusky green. The directions are not to be made out because of the thick undergrowth around me. Then I give up and run back in the direction I’ve come from. I now discover one more small track to my right. ‘Is this the way back to the tree? Or is the track I am currently on the right one?’ To be on safer side, I draw an arrow on the forest ground and decide to take the left path. Footprints from my hurried march till there are not to be seen on the relatively hard ground. Mosquitoes are waking up slowly from their day sleep and coming out of their hideouts. I discover a tarpaulin lying in the shrubbery directly beside the track. ‘Have it overlooked it?’ The picture of a horrible scenario shoots through my head in that I’m actually lost and I have to spend the night in short pants and a shirt, completely unprotected from the hordes of mosquitoes and leeches. In this case, I find it to be a blessing that there are no more wild tigers or bears here. However, there are numerous venomous snakes in this forest, and to have to spend the night leaning against a tree is not a comforting thought. ‘I don’t believe this. I’m not really completely inexperienced in this field. I’ve undertaken many expeditions to ancient tribes of the earth. During those, I’ve gone hundreds of kilometers through the jungles of Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, and West New Guinea, and now… am I really lost?’ I raise my pace and start sweating like a stud, which attracts the mosquitoes more than before. ‘The giant tree will hopefully be there up ahead. If not, I’ve taken a wrong turn in my haste. In that case, I’ll have to return to my arrow and try the other trail. But how much further should I go on down this bush track? Have I already come too far? The giant tree should’ve appeared long ago. Man o man, how stupid is this?! Being a professional journeyman, how can one act so clumsily and stupidly? I just wanted to see a tree that was only 200 meters away from the main track, and I the idiot take a different trail on my way back. What a dumb mistake!’ Lost in troubling thoughts, I come to stand before my tree giant all of a sudden. Being relieved, I go around it and take the track that I’d taken to get there.

As I reach the point where Tanja’s waiting, I am completely exhausted and drenched in my own sweat. “Where were you for such a long time? I was so worried.” “You won’t believe it, I was actually lost within that little stretch. There was another way, and I thought it’d bring me back in a curve. But it didn’t. So, when you go there, take the same way back, otherwise you’ll land exactly where I was.”

As we reach the small ferry boat that will take us to the other side, we come across a man in a ranger’s uniform. “Who let you in with your own bikes and a dog? It’s prohibited to bring dogs into the national park. They pose a danger to our wildlife.” “The only one who’s really a danger to the nature and animals is man. Don’t you think so?”, I answer laughingly. “Hm, yes. You are right in saying that”, he retorts in a friendly manner. Then we load our bikes, the dog’s trailer, and Ajaci onto the little ferry boat and start chuffing towards the opposite bank…

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Date:
12.03.2017

Day: 621

Country:
Vietnam

Province:
Đồng Nai

Location:
Kat Tien Nationalpark

Latitude N:
11°25’15.9’’

Longitude E:
107°25’49.3’’

Daily kilometer:
35 km

Total kilometer:
22.704 km

Ground quality
Asphalt / gravel

Maximum height:
55 m

Height meter of the day:
68.623 m

Sunrise:
05:59 a.m.

Sunset:
18:00 p.m.

Temperature Tag max:
33°C

Flat tire total:
15

Flat front tire:
3

Flat rear tire:
10

Flat trailer tire:
1