Tortoise and fresh water field skill training course to build capacity amongst students in Vietnam

Students get their hands on turtles, weighing, measuring, notching, and processing Cyclemys sp. field records.

Program has undertaken its fourth major training initiative of the past year focused on developing interest, skills, and experience in Vietnam?s tortoises and freshwater turtles amongst students and young professionals.  The Field Skills Development Training course was hosted at Cuc Phuong National Park, March 20-26, and involved nine participants from five major universities in Vietnam. The course combined lecture taught instruction with hands-on practical experience, using the facilities of the Turtle Conservation Center, as well as Cuc Phuong forest, and local communities as field classrooms.

Aimed at providing students with an introduction to field research, as well as kindling further interest and involvement in turtles, the course covered eight relevant areas of training.  These included scientific research methodology and study design, turtle identification, measuring and mapping, use of radio telemetry, documenting field records, nesting and reproduction, field survey techniques, and interview-based survey methods.

Some course highlights:

  • Students learned about the use of radio telemetry equipment, and joined researchers in the field tracking down a few of the 10 keeled box turtles (Cuora mouhotii) that are currently the subjects of a two-year home range and ecology study at the park. 

  • Digging up eggs is always the fun part of the course, requiring careful excavation and delicate removal and marking.  Only one student managed to break their egg in the process (thankfully turtle eggs had been replaced with duck eggs).

  • Interview skills are an essential requirement for anyone surveying turtles in Asia these days.  Following instruction on methodology and some role-playing exercises allowing the students? to practice their interview technique, the students put what they had learned to use and were set loose on local villages to interview genuine turtle hunters. 

  • Use of compasses, reading and plotting points on maps, taking accurate measurements, and using GPS are covered in the mapping module of the course.  Students must complete a mapping practical during the training course to ensure that they firmly grasp these basic skills.

  • Students learn how to accurately document field records using the ATCN reporting format, lending greater credibility to field record reporting.  Appropriate and accurate documentation is essential to developing a better picture of the distribution and status of turtles in the wild and targeting key populations for protection.

  • Timed search, trapping, and line transect methodologies are taught as part of the field course.  Amazingly, a yearling keeled box turtle (Cuora mouhotii) was discovered during the first few minutes of line transect surveys in the forest.

    Students included participants from Xuan Mai Forestry College, Hanoi National University, Hue Teacher Training College, Vinh University, Hue University of Sciences and the Hue Agriculture and Forestry University.

    The training course is part of the Asian Turtle Program?s ongoing efforts to build national interest and expertise in tortoises and freshwater turtles.  The next course for students will be held in Cambodia in October 2006, followed by similar course in Myanmar at the end of the year.

    Bui Dang Phong, Turtle Conservation Center manager, Cuc Phuong National Park
    Tim McCormack, Field Project Team-leader, Asian Turtle Program
    David Emmett, Biologist, Conservation International Indo-Burma Program
    Douglas Hendrie, Asian Turtle Coordinator, Wildlife Conservation Society & Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
    Josh Kempinski, Biologist, Small Carnivore Conservation Program, Cuc Phuong National Park
    Tran Thu Hang, administrative support, Asian Turtle Program

Support for the training course was provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, with additional technical inputs and support from Conservation International.

For more information about the Asian Turtle Program please contact:

Douglas Hendrie
PO Box 222
Hanoi, Vietnam