Book Review: Gold Rush In The Jungle
Gold Rush In The Jungle by Dan Drollette Jr, The Race to Discover and Defend the Rarest Animals of Vietnam’s “Lost World” (Crown Publishers, New York, 316 pages, $25.00)
Award-winning science writer Dan Drollette’s first book is as exciting as an Indiana Jones jungle adventure, with important differences. The good guys and the bad guys in “Gold Rush in the Jungle” are real people, and the timely tale is true.
Drollette’s story begins in 1997, when he traveled to Vietnam to check out the story he’d heard that biologists are discovering unique species of mammals in the remote jungles near the borders of Cambodia and Laos. The story is accurate. Their finds include such peculiar creatures as a deer that barks and the spotted Annam flying frog. No sooner did scientists identify new species, however, than they realized that the rare animals were on the verge of extinction.
Unfortunately, preserves established by dedicated conservationists and scientists are not sufficient to save the animals. Developers cutting down the jungle destroy the habitat that sustains the rare animals.
Traders pose another serious threat. Scientists studying the animals are in competition with a lucrative underground market. Many people believe in traditional Asian medicine and folklore remedies that prescribe animal body parts as cures for disease and to increase sexual potency. With the rise of a wealthy class in China and elsewhere in the Far East, the demand threatens the survival of the animals.
“Experts put the value of the parts of a tiger at between $10,000 and $15, 000, with reports of some animals selling for as much as $30,000,” according to Drollette. Rhino horns are especially coveted. An average-sized horn may sell for $250,000.
Of course, Vietnam is not the first, nor the only place in the world where avaricious businessmen seek a fast buck. The book’s title suggests the 1849 California Gold Rush, which also was fueled by get rich quick schemes that trampled the environment and lives. The author includes instances from some of the many countries that contend with similar issues today.
Along with jungle adventures, Massachusetts author Dan Drollette Jr. weaves the history of Vietnam. He introduces people he meets during his research, among them men who fought against the U.S. during the war and the first U.S. Ambassador to Viet Nam after the war, a former prisoner of war. He is a sensitive observer, too, as he writes about the frustrations of a biologist who loses his battle to save a precious plant. His emotions surface as he views torture apparatus at the prison euphemistically called the Hanoi Hilton, where captured American soldiers were held hostage.
Like Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” Dan Drollette’s “Gold Rush in The Jungle” deepens our knowledge and appreciation of Vietnam and its people.