Thirty-Four Endangered Turtles Returned to Vietnam

Associated Press - Bangkok
May 12, 2006


BANGKOK, Thailand ? Thirty-four rare pond turtles have been returned to Vietnam in what a conservationist said Saturday was the first time that smuggled wildlife was repatriated to the country.

The turtles -- two rescued from a market in Hong Kong and 32 others born into captivity there -- were flown Wednesday to Vietnam aboard a Cathay Pacific flight and will eventually be released into the wild.

The two turtles were believed to have been caught in the marshes of Quang Nam Province in 1999 and were found for sale in a Hong Kong market. They were turned over to the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden of Hong Kong where they flourished -- producing the 32 offspring that joined them on their return to Vietnam.

"We believe this is the first known case of smuggled wildlife being returned to the country. The great irony is that most of the turtles flow the other way," said Douglas Hendrie, a fresh water turtle expert who helped coordinate the return with the government.

"There is a huge trade underway with most turtles making their way to Chinese markets," he said. "Vietnam has decimated its wild turtle population."

Paul Crow, a conservation officer at Kadoorie Farm, said the return was delayed because authorities wanted to ensure there would be a safe place for the turtles to live.

"It's fantastic," Crow said. "With all the animals we have here, the ultimate goal is to get them to their range country or natural habitat."

Of the 25 native species of tortoises and freshwater turtles in Vietnam, Hendrie said the pond turtle is among the most threatened. Last recorded in the wild in 1939, the pond turtle's numbers have fallen as a result of hunting and trade to meet the demand of export markets, as well as the loss of its lowland habitat.

Vietnam's new wildlife protection law for the first time specifically lists the Vietnamese pond turtle as a protected species that may not be bought, sold, traded, or consumed without a permit from the government. It is also listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) banning export of the species without a specific CITES permit from the national government.

But even with national and international laws, Hendrie and Crow both acknowledge the turtles will remain at risk.

For now, they are being kept temporarily the Turtle Conservation Center (TCC) at Cuc Phuong National Park where the government runs a conservation program for critically endangered species, including the Vietnamese pond turtle.

"We are looking for a suitable site where these turtles will be protected," Hendrie said. "The last thing we want to do is drop them in a pond and then see them in China two months later back in the trade."


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