Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saving Vietnam's Turtles

During a recent trip to Vietnam's Cuc Phuong National Park, I visited it's Turtle Conservation Center to see the wonderful work they are doing to save Vietnam's turtles from extinction.
Above is a critically endandered Vietnamese Pond Turtle (Mauremys annanensis) or Rua Trung bo in Vietnamese.  The Center raises them in captivity to be released in their native habitat in Central Vietnam.

Cuc Phoung National Park

Vietnamese Pond Turtle

Besides their captive breeding program, the Center is active with rescue and rehabilitation of injured turtles.

Cuc Phoung Turtle Conservation Center

  Above is another Vietnamese Pond Turtle.  I was extremely lucky to see such a rare species....and very impressed with the good work the Center does.

Asian Turtle Conservation Network

Here is a typical turtle hunters' camp.  In the foreground is a deadfall trap.....behind is the simple campsite.

Turtle Hunting in Vietnam

Yellow-headed Temple Turtle (Heiremys annandaii) is another critically endangered species used for turtle soup, Chinese medicine, and handicrafts made from it's carapace (shell).

Another trap.....this one directs turtles through an opening with a wire snare.  Simple, easy to construct.....and deadly.

Two of the most endangered turtles are found in Vietnam....the Vietnamese Pond Turtle......and the famous Giant Turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.
Although turtles are relentlessly hunted, one species.....the Giant Turtle of Hoan Kiem considered sacred and protected.

The Turtle Center in Cuc Phuong does not have a specimen...but has a lifesize model and educational display.
Here are Phil Gilbert and son Ben, UK naturalists, photographers, and my convivial travel and adventure companions, atop a
Swinhoe's Softshell Turtle  (Rafetus swinhoei)....also known as a Yangtze Softshell Turtle.  This is the largest freshwater turtle in the world, is critically endangered, and found only in China and Vietnam.  Some taxonomic controversy exists, with Vietnamese scientists wishing to identify the Hoan Kiem Turtle as a distinct species, (Rafeus leloii).

By now I hope you want to know more about Hoan Kiem Lake and it's famous Grandfather Turtle, Cu Rua in Vietnamese.
Hoan Kiem Lake is in the center of historic Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam.  It's name means Restored Sword Lake and legend has it that Emperor Le Loi used a magic sword in a successful revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty.  To honor the victory, Le Loi gave the magic sword, called Heaven's Will, to the Golden Turtle God, Kim Qui.  Above is the Turtle Tower...watching over the lake and the sacred turtle who still lives in the shallow, green water.

The legend depicted in ceramics.

Hoan Kiem Lake is a place for strolling, exercise and relaxing in crowded and noisy Hanoi.  The walk around the lake is about a mile....with nice views all around.

Noone knows how many Giant Turtles are in the lake.....they are rarely seen in the murky water.  Most say there is only one left...and that it brings great fortune if it shows itself to you.

My last day in Hanoi....on a hot and humid afternoon....I saw some ripples under this tree!  Could it be?  Would I get a photo?

A grainy and over-exposed shot, to be sure.  But, proof positive of my good fortune!
Below a photo....not mine...of the capture of Hoan Kiem's sacred turtle for some needed medical care.  Ironic, that the Giant Turtle is treated so deferentially, while the equally endangered Pond Turtle is being hunted to extinction.

Wikipedia photo
The story of the capture and treatment of Hoan Kiem's Turtle made all the media....including a BBC video.  I wish him well and will look for him on my next visit to Hanoi.

With me on this visit was my good friend, Vu Van Lien, Phd Entomologist, who works at the Vietnam National Museum of Nature.  I met Lien while working on his Earthwatch Institute Research Project, "Butterflies of Vietnam."  Phil Gilbert was also on that team...... Earthwatch friendships last far longer than the projects. 


  1. Very interesting, turtles are ancestor's. Vietnamese turtles look more pre-historic. A good investment of time and resources. Good photographs and thank you, for sharing.

  2. Thanks a lot for your contribution to build catalog project

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