Journey to excellence: Cat Tien National Park joins IUCN’s Green List

A forest in Cat Tien National Park, in southern Viet Nam

Perched high up in a tree, a black-shanked douc langur peers down through the forest canopy in Cat Tien National Park. With this lush rainforest home to 1,729 wildlife species and 1,615 documented plant species, the critically endangered langur is just one of several species that can be spotted.

Last week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that Cat Tien National Park has been accepted to its Green List, a global sustainability standard for protected area management. The announcement comes after a rigorous two-year assessment process, which was supported by WWF and IUCN through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Biodiversity Conservation project. This is the first national park and second protected area in Viet Nam to earn this distinction and the 78th Green Listed site globally.

Although pangolins are considered critically endangered, there is a small but stable population in Cat Tien thanks to conservation efforts.

A Siamese crocodile basks in the sun in Cat Tien National Park.

What is the IUCN Green List, and why is it important?

The Green List Standard is one of the most robust and comprehensive ways to assess area-based conservation and protected area management performance. To earn the standard, protected areas must satisfy 17 globally consistent criteria (measured by 50 indicators) that address the following four themes:

  1. Good Governance
  2. Sound Design and Planning
  3. Effective Management
  4. Successful Conservation Outcomes

Since the launch of IUCN’s Green List in 2014 at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Viet Nam has been a flagship country for the initiative. In 2020, Van Long Nature Reserve became the first Green Listed site in Viet Nam and in all of Southeast Asia. Now, Viet Nam boasts two Green Listed sites, with seven more on the way thanks to support from the USAID Biodiversity Conservation Activity.

Established in 1978 and spanning more than 82,000 hectares, Cat Tien National Park is one of the best places to see wildlife in Viet Nam. However, there was a time when these wildlife sightings were not so common. In 2010, Viet Nam’s last Javan rhino—one of the world’s most threatened species—was shot dead in the park, its valuable horn cut off by poachers. Despite threats to the park and its rich biodiversity, Cat Tien National Park still harbors endemic and endangered species such as the gaur, Siamese crocodile, and yellow-cheeked gibbon. Recent camera trap surveys revealed a high number of pangolins—one of the world’s most trafficked animals—in some parts of Cat Tien, illustrating the success of conservation efforts in recent years.

The park is also home to one of the country’s last surviving Asian elephant herds, which WWF is working to conserve as part of its contributions to the national-level Viet Nam Elephant Conservation Action Plan and through WWF’s regional Elly Allies initiative. With less than 100 wild elephants remaining in the country, Cat Tien is one of four priority elephant sites for WWF in Viet Nam.

Cat Tien’s journey to joining the IUCN “Green List”

A community patrol team treks through the forest, monitoring for evidence of illegal hunting or snares. Community patrol teams like this have been instrumental in bolstering enforcement efforts in Cat Tien and other protected areas in Viet Nam.

Tourists walk along a path in Cat Tien National Park.

To become Green Listed, Cat Tien National Park was first assessed against five of the standard’s 50 indicators to determine whether it met the minimum conditions for Green List certification. Once this initial assessment was approved by the Expert Assessment Group for the Green List, a group of local experts established and accredited by IUCN, the site was assessed against the remaining 45 indicators with support from USAID Biodiversity Conservation Activity. This entailed:

  • Surveying the park’s diverse array of wildlife as part of a broader effort by the project to conduct the largest-ever biodiversity survey in Viet Nam;
  • Supporting improvements in park management, including investments in technology and equipment, such as the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) for biodiversity monitoring and patrols;
  • Supporting the establishment of community patrol teams;
  • Establishing a collaborative management mechanism to bolster community engagement in conservation, which is fundamental for promoting good governance and ensuring that those residing near the park are appropriately engaged in conservation decision-making.

Upon meeting all 50 indicators, evidence to support the assessment was submitted to the IUCN Green List Committee for a decision on the park’s Green List status.

Last week marked the completion of this two-year process and the final phase in the park’s journey to becoming a Green Listed site. With the certification valid for five years, the park will eventually need to resubmit evidence to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to meeting the standard.

One of the few remaining elephants in Cat Tien National Park.

Birds perch on a sambar deer in Cat Tien National Park.

A new era for conservation in Viet Nam

Cat Tien National Park’s achievement marks a turning point for conservation in Viet Nam. The park serves as a model for the seven other protected areas¹ in the country currently undergoing the Green List certification process with support from the USAID Biodiversity Conservation Activity.

By becoming ‘Green Listed,’ Cat Tien National Park and these other sites can earn global recognition for adhering to best practices in protected area management. In turn, this could attract more investments in biodiversity conservation, tourism, and sustainable development,” says Nick Cox of WWF, who serves as the Chief of Party for USAID Biodiversity Conservation.

Thanks to these efforts, protected areas in Viet Nam have been able to improve the quality of their management to achieve globally recognized standards, building a foundation for the long-term conservation of the country’s biodiversity.

One hundred-year-old Tung tree in Cat Tien National Park.

[1] Cuc Phuong, Bach Ma, Bi Doup-Nui Ba, Song Thanh, Dong Chau-Khe Nuoc Trong, Phong Nha-Ke Bang, and Vu Quang National Parks are all at different stages in the Green List process, with Bach Ma and Bi Doup-Nui Ba National Parks at the most advanced stage.