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Ex-softshell hunter becomes a conservationist

In the 1980 and 1990’s Mr Nguyen Van Nhan living in Thanh Hoa province of Vietnam was well known in his local community as a hunter of giant softshells. These were Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), better known in Vietnam as the Hoan Kiem Turtle that can grow to over 150kg in size. They are now considered the worlds rarest turtle with only four animals known in existence. Using a techniques of harpoons and long baited hook lines to ensnare the giant animals he claims to have caught over 20 individuals in his lifetime.

At the time Mr Nhan did not know the species was rare and it was caught and sold locally with the same price as fish. It has been the case at many locations for this giant species in Vietnam that they have been hunted to local extinction before people became aware that they were rare or important. Now Mr Nhan is working with conservationist from the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) to monitor the lakes he once used to fish and is hopefully that more animals of the species can be found and protected. 

Rafetus swinhoei

Above: A photograph taken by a wildlife trader of one of the turtles Mr Nhan had caught in 1993.  Photo by: unknown.

Written by: Timothy McCormack & Pham Van Thong - ATP
Date: 12th June 2014

Download this press release PDF here: English pdf

Download this press release PDF here: Vietnamese pdf

hook line used  to catch Rafetus swinhoei

hook line

Above: A long line of hook lines that had been used to catch almost a dozen Rafetus swinhoei.  The lines are baited but designed to entangle the turtles legs and body as they investigate the bait. Photo by: Pham Van Thong – ATP

Mr Nhan's harpoon

Above: Mr Nhan’s harpoon that has caught over seven Rafetus swinhoei, a second smaller curved hook was often used to flip the turtles on their back once caught to make them easier to remove from the water.  Photo by: Pham Van Thong – ATP


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Office: Room#1806, C14 Bac Ha Building,To Huu road, Nam Tu Liem district, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: +84 (0) 4 7302 8389



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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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