for National Geographic News
"We can eat anything with four legs, except the table," goes a popular saying in Vietnam.
But this boast about the Vietnamese people's adventurous eating habits also speaks to concerns among conservationists, who say that rampant illegal trade of wildlife in the Southeast Asian country is pushing many species dangerously close to extinction.
Rich in species diversity, the country has become a major hub for the wildlife trade, supplying domestic and international markets with a variety of live animals or animal parts, experts say.
"The current levels of overexploitation for both legal and illegal wildlife trade are widely considered to be the single greatest threat to many species, over and above habitat loss and degradation," said Eric Coull, Greater Mekong representative for WWF, the international conservation organization.
This is especially true in Vietnam, he says, where wildlife populations are dwindling due to illegal trade and an increasing appetite for wild meat.
Recently the Vietnamese government stepped up efforts to deal with wildlife trafficking by implementing new laws and partnering with international conservation agencies.
But so far things haven't gotten significantly better, says WWF's Barney Long, who is based in Hanoi, Vietnam.
"The response [by the government] has been insufficient to deal with the scale of the problem, so the situation has little improved," he said.
Hunting and poaching of any animal without a permit has been banned in Vietnam since 1975.
But critics say enforcement is weak, and smugglers can easily forge permits.
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