May 22, 2006

Market Film Samples Attitudes of Young Vietnamese Towards Turtles and Trade

The Cuc Phuong Turtle Conservation Center (TCC) hosted 62 students from Xuan Mai Forestry College as part of ongoing training activities of the center focused on raising awareness and building interest in turtles and their conservation amongst students.  The students were divided into morning and afternoon groups and provided training on identification of Vietnam?s 25 native tortoises and freshwater turtle species.  The identification skills of the morning group were tested with three students scoring 100%.

The course was instructed by Mr. Bui Dang Phong, manager of the TCC and Douglas Hendrie, Asian Turtle Program Coordinator.

The most interesting aspect of the training course was the use of a new training module aimed at assessing student attitudes about the conservation and trade of turtles.  During the afternoon training session, students were shown a short film produced by Bill McCord of the Guangzhou turtle markets.  The film vividly illustrates the vast quantities of turtles that were present in the market during the late 1990?s, including many species that are native to Vietnam.  Also depicted in the film is the live butchering of several turtles. 

Following viewing the film, the students were asked to record their impressions on paper.  One of the aims of the exercise was to determine if and how the film might influence the students? attitudes or draw upon their emotions, identifying potential opportunities to use animal welfare concerns to influence public attitudes toward protection and conservation of turtles and other wildlife. 

The students were asked to write down at least five thoughts, feelings, or ideas that came to mind.  Their comments were then collected and the instructors engaged the group in open discussion about the film using prepared questions to provoke discussion.

Feedback from students clearly showed that the prevailing concern resulting from the film revolved around the large quantity of turtles that were shown being sold openly in the market.  Most students (66%) were concerned by the apparent the lack of enforcement or suggested the need for stronger enforcement.  More than half the students (55%) also suggested that the actions depicted on the film were ?brutal? or ?sad? indicating that the attitudes of younger people might be more readily influenced by awareness efforts that incorporate animal welfare issues.  Only one student in the group commented favorably on the butchering of the large soft-shell shown toward the end of the film stating that the soft-shell was ?slaughtered quickly and professionally.?  Students also demonstrated concern over the possibility that some turtle species would become extinct if trade was allowed to continue.  Almost half the students thought that in addition to improved enforcement, there was a strong need for greater awareness (44%) amongst the public in order to reduce trade.

Some other interesting comments by students emerging from the attitude sampling:

  • The protection of wild animals including turtles is not just the concern of a particular country but of the whole world.

  • How can the Chinese government allow such markets to exist and develop for trading of rare animals? The situation seems serious in Vietnam as well with wild animal specialties (consumption) increasing daily.

  • The film is a warning to human beings who consider themselves Masters of the world.

  • People see only short-term benefit but do not think about the next generation.

  • The (market) scene makes me feel sad.  What will be the fate of turtles if situations like this continue to exist?

  • I feel mercy for the turtles that are trying to survive while their shells are cut away from them (reference to the soft-shell being butchered while still alive).

  • How can people trade turtles for a small profit and lose them forever???

Mr. Thien, head-keeper at the TCC shows students a juvenile Heosemys grandis in the new hatchling building.

The students clearly demonstrated an understand of the key issues facing turtles in Vietnam (and other wildlife).  Many of the Xuan Mai Forestry College?s students go on to become wildlife protection officers, foresters, or staff at parks and protected areas throughout Vietnam.  Reaching this next generation of young professionals and finding ways to influence public attitudes and sentiment toward wildlife protection are essential components of the ongoing struggle to preserve Vietnam?s unique natural heritage. 

The Xuan Mai Forestry College training course was carried out by Cuc Phuong Turtle Conservation Center, in cooperation with the Hanoi-based Asian Turtle Conservation Program, a consortium effort to conserve Asia?s turtles by the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Turtle Survival Alliance. 

Note on China Markets

The McCord film was produced in the late 1990s, and therefore may not accurately represent the situation today in China?s markets.  Although a recent survey in February 2006 showed that markets in Guangzhou were dominated by farmed species, a large numbers of endemic species from Myanmar, as well as Vietnam-natives like Cuora galbinifrons, were still present in reasonable numbers.   Moreover, trade seizures by wildlife protection authorities in Vietnam continue to net quantities of turtles being shipped north to the border from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. 

Contact information

Ms. Le Thi Thanh Thuy
The Asian Turtle Program
PO Box 222
Hanoi, Vietnam