Ba Be National Park is an abundant bio-reserve area containing the world’s only fresh-water karst lake and several rare species of fauna and flora. This year Ba Be National Park celebrates its 5th anniversary as an ASEAN Heritage Park. The bio-diverse 10,048ha park – home to 1,268 species of flora and fauna, a series of caves and a gigantic fresh water lake – was established in 1992 by the Vietnamese Government to preserve forest ecosystems in the northeast. Along with the 15,000ha forest in neighboring Na Hang District of Tuyen Quang Province – home of three newly discovered groups of Francois’ Langurs, an endangered species with a mere 180-200 animals left in Viet Nam – Ba Be plans to apply for UNESCO heritage status. "The national park, with assistance from the Viet Nam National Commission for UNESCO applied last year to make the park a UNESCO Natural site. They suggested we widen the area to include Na Hang forest," said director of Ba Be National Park, Nong The Dien. As one of the 27 ASEAN heritage gardens, Ba Be has the potential to attract nature lovers with its 450ha natural fresh water lake, and 553 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. According to Dien, discovering wild Francois’ Langurs is a sign that the park’s reforestation and preservation policies are proving effective. "It’s a sign that the forest has been restored. The appearance of a number of Francois’ Langurs in the park will make it an attractive site, not only to tourists, but also biological specialists," Dien says. He also added that a few white-eared night herons (Gorsachius Magnificus) which mostly live in China, were found in the Lung Ly forest on a limestone peak. The appearance of the special bird is a reason that the park’s administration proposes to list Ba Be as a Ramsar Convention site. An official from the National Commission for UNESCO Viet Nam said, Ba Be park and Na Hang forest would need further scientific study on indigenous fauna and flora to see if they meet the criteria of an UNESCO bio-diverse heritage site. "Ba Be park in Bac Can Province and the Na Hang forest in Tuyen Quang Province should focus on combating the growing problem of protecting the local environment and supporting its residents before reaching for a UNESCO label," he said. "The park’s administration will take time to finish a perfect procedure in co-operation with relevant agencies. It also needs the effort of the people’s committees of Bac Can and Tuyen Quang to turn the complex into a UNESCO site," he said, adding that the local residents are also part of the heritage of the site. However, geologist Tran Tan Van, vice director of Viet Nam Institute of Geo-sciences and Mineral Resources, who is a member of the team for UNESCO submission, said that the 25,000ha complex should first get recognized as a UNESCO Global Geo-park before aspiring to other international labels. "Geologically, I am sure that Ba Be National Park can meet the standards of an UNESCO Global Geo-park. Our survey from 2003 shows that the park has a long and unique history of geological evolution," Van said. "The heart of the park is the 450ha Ba Be Lake, which perhaps resulted from an earthquake, it is the only freshwater lake on karst in the world. Although naturally formed on limestone terrain, the lake is never dry," he explained. Earthquake lake According to a survey from the Viet Nam Institute of Geo-sciences and Mineral Resources, over 11,000 years ago, an earthquake caused a collapse of the subterranean Nang River, creating a natural dam which led to the formation of Ba Be Lake. The earthquake was also the reason that prehistoric men in the area moved to Cao Bang Province. The Tay ethnic minorities in Nam Ty village in Nguyen Binh district of Cao Bang Province believe they originate from Ba Be lake area. "Ancient tools found in Tien Cave in the lake area by an archaeologist, Trinh Nang Chung years ago, proves that prehistoric men of Early Neolithic Period (about 10,000 years ago) lived here," Van said. Ba Be is home to over 3,000 people from the ethnic minorities of Tay, Nung, Dao and Mong, who live in 13 villages within the park. The Tay people have inhabited Ba Be area for centuries and make up 58 per cent of the population within the park’s boundaries. According to an official from the National Commission for UNESCO, the culture and lifestyle of the Tay People create the cultural value of the Ba Be Lake area. "The park administration should control the population development within the park well. The Tay people have lived there a long time and are responsible for making the park a world heritage site. Immigration from other provinces will negatively impact the environment in the area." Geologist Tran Tan Van also stressed the park’s managing board would plan sustainable development of the lake, which is a key role in protecting the park. "The park has potential to attain world labels such as Geopark, Biosphere Reserve and Man, and World Nature Heritage. But, these world titles need time and must be approached gradually." Van said Cashing in The growing problem of protecting the local environment and supporting its residents is a tough job for the administration of Ba Be National Park, as well as Bac Can Province. The park is looking for ways to make tourism more profitable, which is a sustainable solution to benefit both the local people and the park. "We can raise money from boat-rentals and souvenir services," said Nguyen Thi Sam, a resident in Khang Ninh Village. The 57-year-old Tay woman added that her family live on a 5,000sq.m rice field and 1.7ha maize farm, which feeds her family. "Trekking, mountain climbing and kayaking are the favorite ecological tours in the park; paddling piragua on the quiet lake is attractive to foreigners," said head of tourism department of the park Pham Duc Toan. "The park has 22 caves, but we’ve only put four on our official tour. We’ll also offer a visit to Dan Den forest, home to many monkeys," he added. Puong Cave is one of the main sites for most tourists along the Nang River, which is linked with Ba Be Lake. 30m high and 300m wide, it is navigable by boat, looks like a big gate on the river, and may be the remnants of the earthquake. There are 23 species of bats, including endangered brown bats, living in the cave. "The lake is still the favorite site for almost all tourists whenever they visit Ba Be Park. They can trek through the forest and mountain or surf piragua on the lake," said Loc Thi Thu Huyen, a tour guide of the park. She said most people from cities liked the landscape and fresh air. The well-protected and clean environment of the park has drawn numerous visitors over the years. In 2006, there were 14,000 tourists coming to the park, but the figure doubled one year later. By rough statistics, over 21,000 visitors, 30 per cent of which are foreigners, have visited over the last 10 months of this year. Toan said the number of visitors will surge when the park officially becomes a UNESCO heritage site. With a profit of VND1 billion (US$60,000) each year, tourism is an effective way to improve the living standards of the local people and conserve the park, according to Toan. The park centre and villages around can host 1,000 visitors at the same time with home-stays and other accommodation, as well as serve local cuisine. Internet service at the park will be upgraded soon. Nguyen Van Chi, 22, a local man in Bo Lu Village, which is sandwiched between Ba Be Lake and park headquarters, said he was aware of the world heritage status of the park, but he did not want to leave the lake – where he had grown up surrounded by nature. "The park is either recognized as a world heritage site or not; I’ll still live here doing my job. As long as I have nature around me, I’m happy," said Hoa, who is a veterinarian. He said he hoped the world heritage label recognition would bring more happiness to every one around the lake. Residents of villages within the park are aware of the need to protect the delicate ecosystem of their surroundings and stay true to their culture. They have promised to be away from destructive practices such as over fishing and deforestation. They also do not use net fishing in the lake, which has been banned by the park administration and local governments to keep the lake clean and full of fish. Director of the park, Nong The Dien, a Tay ethnic man, said the world heritage title would bring the northeast province to a new stage of economic and social development. But it’s still a long time away and there’s much to be done first.
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