April 2007

Field skill training course builds capacity
amongst students Vietnam 2007

Xuan Mai student Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong carefully excavates eggs during one of the course?s practical training exercises.

The Vietnam-based Asian Turtle Program has undertaken its first major training initiative of the 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, 19th to 26th of March 2007, and involved eight participants from five major universities and one national park in Vietnam. The course combined lecture taught instruction with hands-on practical experience, using the facilities of the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC), as well as Cuc Phuong forest, and local communities as field classrooms.

Participants in the course included students from Xuan Mai Forestry College, Hanoi National University, Hue Teacher Training College, Vinh University, the Hue University of Sciences, the Hue Agriculture and Forestry University, and Bac Ma National Park.

The course covered nine relevant areas of training, aimed at providing students with an introduction to field research.  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, interview-based survey methods and conservation principals.

Two new components were added to this years training course, these were the conservation toolbox, a section developed to highlight the need for strategic and sufficiently strong links between research and conservation in order to achieve effective protection of species in the wild.

A second very positive new component of the program was the ?Turtle Challenge?, a competition between students where by participants were required to utilize skills that they had learned in the course to successfully complete the challenge. 

Some course highlights:

    While practicing interview skills in the local community the students collected additional information about the threats the Cuora mouhotii a species native to the national park from real hunters.  They also found four juvenile Cuora mouhotii in the possession of local villagers.   

    The Turtle Challenge held on the final day of training the challenge was composed of eight stations at which activities based on different aspects of the weeks training had to be completed by each student.  Students were scored on how well they completed the tasks, working competitively against each other and as teams.  Team Rafetus, representing northern Vietnam won the challenge by a fraction of a percent over Team Mauremys, representing central Vietnam).  Students evaluated the Turtle Challenge favourably, suggesting that the competition be expanded to incorporate additional tests of their field skills and knowledge.

Instructor Sitha Som of the Cambodian Turtle Conservation Team explains to students about the use of aquatic traps

    Students demonstrated a 43% improvement between pre-test and post-test scores for the course. Testing focused on basic knowledge and skills. Turtle identification scores fell below expectations with students being capable of identifying only 16 of 25 species on average, though three students scored well, and one student could identify all 25 native species by the end of the course.

This year, small grants have been made available to some students to complete research projects of their own design.  This new component of the training program is aimed at providing students with an opportunity to utilize what they have learned during the course in the field.

The Field Skills and Conservation Training Course was hosted as part of the Asian Turtle Program?s ongoing efforts to build national interest and expertise in tortoises and freshwater turtles.  The ATP has hosted three other major training courses for students since 2005, including co-instructing a course in Cambodia in late 2006.  The next field skills and conservation training course is planned for students and young professionals in Myanmar, and will be held in early May.

Bui Dang Phong, Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) manager, Cuc Phuong National Park
Tim McCormack, Field Project Team-leader, Asian Turtle Program (ATP), Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Sitha Som, BP Turtle Conservation Team, Cambodia
Douglas Hendrie, Director, Asian Turtle Program (ATP), Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Nguyen Xuan Thuan, Field Research Officer, Asian Turtle Program (ATP)
Phan Thi Duyen, administrative support, Asian Turtle Program (ATP)

Support for the training course was provided by Conservation International (CI), the Shellshock campaign of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

For more information about the Asian Turtle Program please contact:

Douglas Hendrie
Asian Turtle Program
PO Box 222
Hanoi, Vietnam

Tele.  844-775-3935

Additional information about conservation activities across the region can be viewed on the Asian Turtle Conservation Network website:

Training Photo Journal

Front row, left to right:  Hoang Van Thai, Tran Hau Khanh, Nguyen Duc Hieu, Phan Thi Duyen, Hoang Thu Trang, Nguyen Thanh Huong, Tran Thi Thu Hang, Nguyen Thi Thuy Phuong, Hoang Van Ha. 

Back row, left to right:   instructors Sitha Som, Tim McCormack, Douglas Hendrie, and Bui Dang Phong.


Top left:  Tim McCormack prepares students for a practical exercise within the TCC. 

Top right:  Hoang Van Ha and other students complete the turtle identification examination as part of training course. 

Lower left and right: Instructor Nguyen Xuan Thuan uses live Asian leaf turtles, Cyclemys sp. from the TCC to practice notching and completion of field record forms.