ATCN News

 

Conservation of the Vietnamese Pond Turtle
(Mauremys annamensis) in central Vietnam
.

Report by:
Nguyen Duc Luong, Field Research Officer, Asian Turtle Program (ATP)
Nguyen Xuan Thuan, Vietnam Program Coordinator, Asian Turtle Program (ATP)
Tim McCormack, Field Program Coordinator, Asian Turtle Program (ATP)
Douglas Hendrie, Director, Asian Turtle Program (ATP)

Introduction

Suspected distribution for Mauremys annamensis includes five provinces in central Vietnam

The Vietnamese Pond Turtle (Mauremys annamensis) is one of three turtle species endemic only to Vietnam.  Though the species is believed to inhabit lowland ponds and marshes within a restricted range of costal central Vietnam, little is known about its wild ecology.  First recorded in 1903 by Siebenrock from Quang Nam Province, central Vietnam, the last time the species was observed in the wild was in 1939 by Merklin (described in Bourret, 1941).  However, since then a number of animals have been observed in the wildlife trade, including one specimen observed in 1993 in a local community in Gia Lai Province, south of Quang Nam (Parham et al, 2006). This suggests that Mauremys annamensis mayin fact have a wider range along the lowland coastal area of Vietnam, from the northern Annamites mountain range in Da Nang Province to as far south as Phu Yen Province. 

In recent years the species? lowland habitat which includes riparian wetlands, ponds, and marshes has been steadily disappearing as a result of agricultural conversion, in particular for rice cultivation.  Moreover, intensive collection of Mauremys annamensis to meet the rising demand for turtles in China since the late 1980?s has significantly reduced remaining populations, with fewer animals observed in the trade in each passing year. 

Today, Mauremys annamensis is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List 2007 (IUCN, 2007), and is also rated amongst the top 25 most endangered turtles in the world by the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF, 2003). 

Review of Mauremys Conservation Project activities to date
During 2006 and 2007 the Mauremys annamensis Project (MAP) has focused on identifying localities where populations of the speciesmay persist in the wild.  During April and May 2006, comprehensive interview-based surveys were conducted in Quang Nam Province, focusing on Mauremys annamensis. During the survey, 397 hunters, fishermen, and others living in communities bordering potential habitat sites were interviewed, of whom 93 were able to provide information on Mauremys annamensis.  In particular, the two districts of Dien Ban and Duy Xuyen provided reliable information on the species, including information from a boy living in Dien Phong Commune of Dien Ban District, who was keeping a specimen of Mauremys annamensis which he claimed to have caught locally, in a small lake, known locally as Ha Tre Lake (Bamboo Lake).

In November 2006 the MAP team returned to Dien Ban District to investigate Ha Tre Lake.  During this visit non-leathal aquatic trapping was conducted which resulted in the capture of a single sub adult Mauremys annamensis, the first ever confirmed wild capture of the species since 1939.

In response to the November 2006 findings, the MAP established a project presence at the site starting in September 2007, with a full time monitoring team located in Dien Phong Commune.  One of the primary objectives of the local team is to conduct patrols around the lake, meeting with fishermen and others working there, collecting information, and increasing the profile and visibility of efforts to protect the species at this important site. 

The local team also works  in close cooperation with the Quang Nam Forest Protection Department (FPD), conducting additional interviews and trapping surveys in the area.

By February 2008, a total of 339 additional interviews were conducted in Duy Xuyen, Dien Ban, Que Son, Thang Binh and Dai Loc districts.  During these interviews a total of 27 turtles of six species were observed in the trade including five Mauremys annamensis in the hands of a single trader in Vinh Dien town of Dien Ban district.  Interviews with traders indicate that the species is becoming increasingly rarer.  This is further supported by the fact all five animals observed in trade were sub-adults or juveniles; the largest specimen was 280g and still not mature and the smallest was only 85g.  

In addition to interviews, a total of 110 days of trapping were carried out at three sites in Duy Xuyen and Dien Ban districts.  Trapping resulted in no additional field records for Mauremys annamensis, though two other species were trapped; a single Ocadia sinensis and a Pelodiscus sinensis.

Raising awareness in local communities
On the 4th of December 2007, ATP?s partner organization, Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), carried out eight school sessions for more than 300 students in Le Dinh Duong middle school school in Dien Trung commune, one of the communes bordering the project area.  The special lesson plan introduced students to Vietnam?s turtles, and in particular Mauremys annamensis, discussing the importance of the species and the treats that it faces.

In May 2008 community meetings were held at one village in Dien Ban district with additional village-level meetings planned in June. 

Future conservation activities

With the current status for Mauremys annamensis in the wild tenuous at best, the ATP is urgently taking action to protect remaining wild populations of the species. 

  1. Awareness:  Continue to carry out local and provincial level awareness activities.
    ?  Expansion of the school program to additional schools in and around confirmed Mauremys habitat.
    ?  Carry out additional village-level meetings to raise awareness about the importance of the species in stakeholder communities.

  2. Site-based Monitoring:  Continue to monitor the Ha Tre Lake site where the ATP has been working to minimize impacts upon the species, particularly as it relates to local hunting. 

  3. Enforcement:  Work closely with Education for Nature ? Vietnam (ENV) and their Wildlife Crime Unit to strategically reduce local trade of the species, and mobilize more effective enforcement on behalf of provincial wildlife protection officers.

  4. Additional surveys:  Conduct additional interview and field surveys upriver in the Thu Bon River and in Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh Provinces to determine the status of the species elsewhere within its range. 

  5. Protected Area:  Establish a Mauremys Conservation Area in Quang Nam province to help ensure the long term survival of the species. This endeavour would involve identifying a suitable wetland area where the species is believed to still occur in the wild or has  occurred until recently that will be designated as a species conservation zone (At present no protected areas provide suitable wetland habitat for the species, providing a secure area for the species recover). 

  6. Captive holding and dispersal site:  Establish a small captive holding and breeding facility for the species adjacent riparian wetlands and habitat suitable for the species within its native range.  Adult founder stock will be maintained at the facility and   allowed to breed with juveniles dispersing into the wild from the captive facility while adult founders remain secure. Adults will be sourced from local trade animals confiscated by the authorities or from some of more than 140 Mauremys annamensis currently maintained at the Turtle Conservation Center (TCC) at Cuc Phuong National Park in Ninh Binh province.  Most of the Cuc Phuong turtles were born at the center from adults confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade.  Proper health screening and a genetic evaluation will apply to all animals involved in this program.

  7. Reintroduction:  Another possible course of action for the MAP will be a planned reintroduction and monitored release of Mauremys annamensis into the wild at a suitable site within the species? range where the species might be afforded some level of local protection.  This project component requires considerable planning including a full assessment of potential release sites.  If carried out, the release would strictly adhere to IUCN guidelines for translocation and release of wildlife, and could potentially be used as a model in Vietnam for fulfilling such requirements.

  8. Repatriation:  Another pending activity under MAP is the potential repatriation of more than 100 Mauremys annamensis currently held in captivity in the US.   Planned for 2009, these turtles would almost certainly be transferred to the TCC at Cuc Phuong National Park.  In 2006, the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Gardens of Hong Kong returned 32 Mauremys annamensis to Vietnam in a highly celebrated example of cooperation between governments that also brought considerable attention to the plight of the species.  The ATP values the potential return of the US turtles as an opportunity to bring additional attention to the species and bolster efforts to protect Mauremys annamensis in the wild.  Eventually the turtles could be evaluated for release or use as founders in the local dispersal program, but no such plans are currently in effect.

  9. Research: Continue to collect information through interviews, observation, monitoring, and trapping to learn more about the species, its habitat, and ecological requirements.

The survival of Mauremys annamensis in the wild depends upon urgent and timely action to prioritize local protection of the species within its range, raise stakeholder awareness, and identify critical habitat and populations where they remain in the wild.  The ATP is committed to this endeavour, and is actively working with national and local partners to achieve this difficult task. 

For more information about the Mauremys annamensis Project, contact:

The Asian Turtle Program                          Tim McCormack
PO Box 222                                             Field Program Coordinator
Hanoi, Vietnam                             or         Asian Turtle Program of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Email:                         Email: