Education for Nature - Vietnam
Source : Hanoi Moi Website
Date : March 23 rd 2005
Author : H. N.M.

Turtle Conservation Goes at Turtle Speed

In our country there are 23 species of tortoises and fresh water turtles, and five marine turtles species. All of these 28 species of Vietnam are included in a list of endangered species due to habitat loss, wildlife hunting and trade. However, the conservation of the tortoise and turtle species moves slowly and faces some difficulties.

The biggest market for turtle consumption in Asia is China and Japan . Our country is considered to a transiting region of turtles and tortoises from Laos and Cambodia to those markets. Although turtle trade from Vietnam to China has taken place for some years, it has increased rapidly. Each year an estimate of 10,000 tons of turtles is traded and transported in Asia , and Vietnam accounts for a considerable amount. At this pace, Vietnam 's turtles and tortoises will be certainly exhausted.

Decree 18 issued on January 17 th 1992 by the former Council of Ministers (present Government) and Decree 48/CP listing forest plants, and rare and precious forest animals, and the management and protection mechanism (issued on April 22 nd 2002) include only five species of turtles and tortoises which are the Chinese three-striped turtle, the giant Asian pond turtle, yellow-headed temple turtle, the elongated tortoise and the impressed tortoise**. Even the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) lists only 19 turtle and tortoise species of Vietnam . Thus, Vietnam 's turtles and tortoises are not absolutely protected by the lawful documents against the threat of being hunted and traded. In particular, the Hoan Kiem Turtle Rafetus swinhoei is listed as the most critically endangered. In the world there are only six individuals of this species left, and the old Hoan Kiem turtle is the only in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the name of this old turtle is not included in Decree 18 or Decree 48 or CITES or in any books on Asian turtles and tortoises.

Turtles and tortoises are being exploited everywhere and being exhausted. Dishes cooked from turtles have become specialty dishes at wildlife restaurants. Chinese people believe that the golden turtle can be used to make a kind of medicine which cures cancer. In Vietnam , individuals of this species are the most expensive, from 2,000 USD to 3,000 USD/ a kilo. Mr. Douglas Hendrie, conservation coordinator of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Asian Turtle Program said, “During my nine years working in Vietnam I've seen only five live golden turtles, four of which were in the hands of traders, and the other one was at a provincial Forest Protection Department. Seeing that we were interested in the turtle held by the Forest Protection Department, a responsible officer said that it had escaped?!”

In addition, turtles are favorite pets to many people, particularly tourists. In big cities throughout Asia there are markets where various wild animals are sold as pets. Dong Xuan market in Vietnam is an example. At souvenir shops, even shops at airports, ornamental objects such as spectacle rims, necklace, and combs which are made of turtle shells are publicly sold to foreigners.

Moreover, the habitat for turtles and tortoises is decreasing. The shifting of natural land into agricultural land, logging, forest fires, the dredging of riverbeds and sand banks reduces the habitat available to turtles. Wild populations and suitable habitats for many of Vietnam 's turtle and tortoise species have not been identified by scientists because individuals of these species are rarely seen.

Turtles and tortoises grow slowly and lay few eggs. It takes a female eight to 10 years be able to reach maturity. The ratio of survival of turtle eggs and hatchlings in the wild is very low. It is the hunting and wildlife trade, and weak management that pushes turtles and tortoises to become endangered. In order to save turtle species and other wildlife species, it is necessary to carry out advocacy activities amongst communities so that their awareness can be enhanced. Apart from this, it is essential to strengthen the management and control of the hunting and trade of wildlife, and promote the protection of the environment.

** Ed. Note : Impressed tortoise not listed. The firth species is Pelochelys cantori

Please note: Translated by Education for Nature – Vietnam . This translation is unofficial in nature. The Vietnamese language version of this story can be obtained by contacting ENV