Coming home: Opportunities for conservation of the endemic Vietnamese pond turtle
Ninh Binh, August 16, 2013 – The Turtle Conservation Center (TCC) in Cuc Phuong National Park has today welcomed home 71 endemic Vietnamese pond turtles (Mauremys annamensis) after a long journey from Europe, where two zoos have been breeding the critically endangered species.
Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands and Münster Zoo in Germany have partnered with the TCC and Cuc Phuong National Park to bring the turtles home. This is the first time a large group of turtles from a European breeding program has been returned to Vietnam.
“Today marks an important step in the conservation of this rare species in Vietnam,” said Mr. Bui Dang Phong, Manager of the TCC. “Poaching, farming and habitat loss pose a severe threat to the small number of Vietnamese pond turtles remaining in the wild. It is Vietnam's duty to actively protect these turtles from illegal hunting and trade to ensure we do not lose another precious endemic species.”
The rare Vietnamese pond turtle is found only in lowland wetlands, ponds and rivers of a few select provinces in central Vietnam. Wild populations have disappeared rapidly since the late 1980s, mainly as a result of intense hunting, smuggling and illegal wildlife trade to meet demand from consumers in Vietnam and China. More recently, there has been a marked increase in the development in captive farming of the species, despite its protected status.
“We are proud to be contributing to the conservation of these rare turtles and returning them to Vietnam,” said Mr. Henk Zwartepoorte, Curator of Reptiles at Rotterdam Zoo. “We can feel optimistic about Vietnamese initiatives such as this and the progress of international efforts to help this species survive in the wild.”
The 71 turtles will join more than 200 of their relatives already being kept at the TCC, all of which have been confiscated from the illegal trade, handed in by volunteers, or bred at the TCC rescue center. The ultimate goal will be to return the turtles to their best remaining habitat – Quang Ngai province in central Vietnam – as part of the Mauremys Annamensis Project (MAP) managed by the Asian Turtle Program (ATP).
“The Vietnamese pond turtle is now globally recognized as a priority for conservation. Although these turtles survive in captivity, urgent action is needed to protect this species' wild habitat to allow it to remain in nature in Vietnam,” said Mr. Timothy McCormack, Program Coordinator of t he ATP and MAP .
The TCC gratefully acknowledges Rotterdam Zoo, Münster Zoo, and Mr. Herbert Becker for their generous support in the successful breeding and return of the turtles. The TCC also extends thanks to the ATP and Quang Ngai People's Committee for their dedication in the conservation of this endemic species. Finally, the TCC would like to recognize Education for Nature – Vietnam for its help in organizing this historic return event.
19th August 2013
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About the endemic Vietnamese pond turtle
The Vietnamese pond turtle (Mauremys annamensis) is a species of particular conservation concern. The small species, which grows to only 29 centimeters in length, remains poorly known; there is very little information on its wild behavior and ecology. The species used to be common in much of lowland central Vietnam, inhabiting wetlands, marshes and ponds in association with large rivers. The species was even found in close proximity to urban areas and in rice fields during the 1980s. However, observed trade volumes have diminished rapidly in the past decade and are now extremely rare in confiscated turtle shipments in Vietnam, which suggests that wild populations are close to extinction. The species is recognized as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List and the Vietnam Red Book. Although the species is fully protected under Vietnam's principal wildlife protection law, Decree 32/2006/ND-CP, it is still hunted for illegal trade. In addition to demand from international markets, there is evidence that Vietnamese traditional medicine beliefs also contribute to the high value of the species in the illegal trade. Massive over-exploitation of the species now means that only a few animals are seen in the trade each year.
About the Turtle Conservation Center, Cuc Phuong National Park
The Turtle Conservation Center (TCC) is located at Cuc Phuong National Park. The TCC was established by Fauna Floral International (FFI) in 1998 as rescue and holding center for tortoises and freshwater turtles which were seen in the extensive illegal wildlife trade during the 1980s and 1990s. The TCC rapidly developed into a conservation project and was transferred to the national park management at the end of 2001. Today, the TCC serves as a regional flagship for tortoise and freshwater turtle conservation efforts and for educating the public about the critical threat to the survival of turtles of Vietnam.
About Education for Nature – Vietnam (ENV)
Education for Nature - Vietnam (ENV) was established in 2000 as Vietnam's first non-governmental organization focused on the conservation of nature and protection of the environment. ENV's mission is to foster greater understanding amongst the Vietnamese public about the need to protect nature and wildlife. ENV employs creative and innovative strategies to influence public attitudes and mobilize Vietnamese citizens to live in balance with the natural world. ENV works closely with government partners to strengthen policy and legislation and directly support enforcement efforts in the protection of endangered species of national, regional and global significance.
Above: One of 71 Vietnamese pond turtles (Mauremys annamensis) arriving at the Turtle Conservation Centre after a long journey from Europe