Education for Nature - Vietnam
Source: Security and Culture Newspaper
Issue: 314
Date: 16 January 2003
Author: Nguyen Van Chien

Run Away, Turtle

At Tam Dao town in Tam Dao National Park, many baby and adult turtles are displayed for sale irrespective of the law on protection of forest resources. Every day turtles are brought to this town. Then the turtles leave the town with tourists who visit Tam Dao National Park.

Life of turtles with difficulties
After asking about the way to Ha village, I managed to get to this village (in Ho Son commune at the foot of Tam Dao mountain). It is said that in this village there are many turtle-hunting groups who provide turtles for restaurants in Tam Dao town. By asking Mr. Q, a skillful turtle hunter, I knew that it was difficult to hunt turtles. In fact, hunters must be strong and young people who have a lot of experience in the forest. These hunters go as deep into the forest as possible. Each of their hunts lasts three or four days. They usually go hunting in groups of about eight people in wet and dense forested areas where there are numerous mosquitoes and flies.  The hunters know that in these areas turtles always search for food after heavy rain. The main food of turtles are mosquitoes, flies, and small insects.

In the past, hunters scoured Tam Dao National Park, inhabited by large numbers of released and wild turtles. Due to the large number of hunters, turtles at the park have become exhausted. This has forced the turtle hunters go hunting in other forest areas such as in Tuyen Quang, Ha Giang, and Thai Nguyen. As a result, hunting turtles for sale has become a job for many people.

Apart from local hunters, wildlife traders transport turtles from Dong Xuan market (in Hanoi) to Tam Dao town for sale. They sell turtles there but not in Hanoi (where there are Central functional agencies) because selling turtles in Tam Dao is safer and more profitable.

The turtles which are sold in Tam Dao belong to four species, and are sold at various prices. Small spiny turtles are sold to domestic tourists for 25,000 VND/ a turtle, and are sold to foreign tourists for 50,000 VND/ a turtle. Box turtles are bought by traders for 20,000 ? 25,000 VND per turtle, and are re-sold by the traders for 50,000 ? 100,000 VND/ a turtle (the prices of box turtles depend upon size and appearance of the turtles, and types of tourists). The spiny turtles and box turtles were mainly caught from Tam Dao and Thai Nguyen forest. In addition to these two species, turtles of two other species which are more beautiful and expensive are sold. These turtles are brought from Dong Xuan market or are hunted in other areas such as forested areas of Tuyen Quang and Ha Giang forest.

If turtles could speak, ?
The fact is that there are dozens of souvenir shops at Tam Dao town each of which can sell about four spiny turtles a day during the non-tourism season. How many turtles of this species do these shops sell a day during the tourism season (from June to September)? ?Each day I sell about ten turtles?, an owner of a souvenir shop said without hesitance. The owner of a rest house said, ?Authorities cannot control the trade of turtles here. To most of the local people, hunting and trade of turtles has become their job. They ignore the law?.

I turned around to ask tourists inTam Dao, ?Do you know that turtles are rare and precious animals that need to be protected? A girl with a bamboo cage in which there were two small turtles responded, ?How dreadful! It would be if turtles do not live in the forest anymore.  They will live at my home?. If this situation is not stopped, where turtles will have no where to go.