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Endemic Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle
(Cuora picturata) under threat in Vietnam

From the 12 th to 17 th of May 2012, the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in cooperation with the Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES) carried out a field survey in Phu Yen province, Vietnam with two visiting turtle experts, Torsten Blanck and Sebastian Braun. The survey aimed to learn more on the Lesser Indochinese Box turtle (Cuora picturata), an endemic and critically endangered tortoise species only confirmed in the wild in 2011.

The ATP chose to carry out the field survey in the primary forest of Deo Ca – Hon Nua Special Use Forest (SUF), Dong Hoa District, Phu Yen province as the species was only recently discovered at the site during surveys by the Biology faculty of Ho Chi Minh University of Science during field surveys in 2010 and 2011.

Using four local hunting dogs and non-lethal aquatic traps the ATP hoped to collect additional information on other turtle species present at the site. The remote field site selected was close to the source of the Song Moi River approximately 14km from the closest village. In the first three days of the survey despite hot and dry weather two Keeled Box turtle (Cuora mouhotii obsti) adults were found by the team while the unlucky dogs searched in vain. On the last day of the survey, heavy rain brought luck with a local hunting dogs excited barking indicating it had found something moving across a slope, at the location the team found an adult Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora picturata).

Back in the village the team also observed Five live animals including three Keeled box turtles (Cuora mouhotii) and two juvenile Lesser Indochinese box turtles (Cuora picturata) which were being kept at a local hunter's house. Interestingly a Four-eyed Turtle (Sacalia quadriocellata) was also seen in the possession of a local hunter in Ninh Hoa District, Khanh Hoa Province who claimed the animal was caught locally. This was also an interesting observation as it indicates a possible southern range extension for the species.

With no established ranger stations and lower protection status than a nature reserve or national park the forest of Deo Ca is clearly still heavily exploited by local communities. Each day in the forest approximately 25 local people would be seen on the forest trails. Some were witnessed collecting charcoal, logging or even returning home with a hunted mouse deer (Tragulus javanicus). Whle close to the villages cows were also seen browsing.

A major threat to turtles in the areas were hunting dogs, of which the team observed 16 active dogs from a single village. The owner of the Cuora picturata claimed that he catches around 50 individuals per year in the rainy season with his hunting dogs. The team estimated that at least 100 animals are taken out of the population each year with many adults are quickly sold to wildlife traders who regularly frequent the villages to source wildlife.

While Deo Ca – Hon Nua is of significant conservation interest due to it tortoise and freshwater turtle fauna Is also clearly has intense pressure on the remaining populations. With the life history of Cuora picturata being slow growth with late maturity and low fecundity its likely that current collection at the site is certainly unsustainable. As such a strong recommendation for the Deo Ca – Hon Nua SUF by the ATP and CRES is that local authorities should take action to tackle the illegal hunting and logging in the area, especially in Hao Son Village, Hoa Xuan Nam Commune, Dong Hoa District. The site should also be considered for upgrading to a nature reserve as a site of special conservation concern in Vietnam with the protection of the very range restricted Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle and other wildlife at the site been of significant importance. Further surveys are also recommended to establish more clearly the broader conservation importance and potential for the site.


Written by: Hoang Van Ha & Tim McCormack– Asian Turtle Program

21st May 2012


Survey by: Nguyen Van Luc, Hoang Van Ha, Nguyen Tai Thang - Asian Turtle Program Field Officers. Torsten Blanck and Sebastian Braun

Above: Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora picturata) with typical pattern found in the wild by a local hunting dog after heavy rain


Above: Two juvenile Lesser Indochinese box turtles ( Cuora picturata ) at a local hunter's


Above: Mouse deer (Tragulus javanicus) caught in a snare-trap


Above: Illegal logging is a continuing problem at Deo Ca – Hon Nua protected forest


Thank you:


The survey was a part of conservation projects supported by the Critically Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (MBZ). We would also like to thank Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES) who collaborated on the survey and Deo Ca – Hon Nua Special Use Forest Management Board and Phu Yen province Forest Protection Department for their supports.


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For more information please contact:

Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of Cleveland Metoparks Zoo,
Office: Room#1302, Thanh Cong Tower, 57 Lang Ha Street,
Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam

Tel: +84 (0) 4 3514 9750
Fax: +84 (0) 4 3519 0383




MBZ ATP would like to thanks the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund for supporting this website
Asian Turtle Program - Indo-Myanmar Conservation
Room#1806 CT1, C14 Bac Ha Building, To Huu Street, Nam Tu Liem District, Hanoi, Vietnam
PO Box 46
Phone:+84 (0) 24 7302 8389

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