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Community support for conservation of the world’s rarest turtle in Vietnam, the Hoan Kiem Turtle.

Son Tay district to the west of Hanoi is famous in legends for the Mountain War God (Son Tinh) and Water God (Thuy Tinh) related to the Tan mountain and Da river in the district. In recent years the district has also become famous internationally as the only known wild habitat of the legendary turtle species of the Hoan Kiem turtle (Rafetus swinhoei). In 2007 the species was confirmed in Dong Mo lake, Son Tay district, Hanoi by the Asian Turtle Program (ATP), this animal represented only the fourth known living animal of the species all over the world. The ATP has now established a local monitoring and patrol team who safeguard the turtle. Awareness activities have also been undertaken in the local community through partnership with the local schools, youth union and People’s Committee to increase knowledge and support for the turtle or turtles in Dong Mo lake and highlight the relationship to the sacred turtles in Hoan Kiem Lake. This awareness and partnerships paid off in 2008 when a dam break on the lake meant the 67kg Rafetus swinhoei escaped and had to be rescued and returned to the lake.

On the 11th September 2014 (14th August 2014 following the Lunar calendar), the ATP and Youth Union of Kim Son commune held a special event. “The Hoan Kiem Turtle Mid-autumn Festival”. At the event, traditional games were played such as blindfolded capture the duck, strike the water filled piñatas and sac races as well as traditional singing and dancing for villages from the Son Tay, Ba Vi area of Hanoi. The festival is an opportunity for farmers to relax after their exhausting work of the rice harvest. It is also a chance for students to celebrate the traditional Moon Festival meaningfully before the start of the new school year. With such an important turtle residing in Dong Mo Lake it is also an opportunity to raise awareness and celebrate the important residence that the community is proud to protect.

Mr Pham Van Thong the Hoan Kiem turtle project coordinator said: “ The Hoan Kiem Turtle Mid-Autumn festival is one of our annual activities which is not only always enjoyable but also conveys an important conservation message to the community to help protect the Hoan Kiem turtle in Dong Mo Lake. During the time we have been working here we have seen big changes in the community, particularly the fishermen, who now actively support the turtle team and want to protect the turtle and they have all signed no hunting agreements. We are thankful to the youth union and Son Tay Peoples Committee for their big support to us in organising these events. In 2014 we intend to create a small no fishing zone and build a nesting sand bank to help further protect the turtle and provide a nesting opportunity incase more than one individual survives in the lake.”

 

Rafetus Hoan Kiem Turtle Mascot

The ATP Hoan klem Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) Mascot for conservation in Vietnam

 

sac race for turtles

A Sac race held for turtles was popular with the children

Rafetus swinhoei Dong Mo 2008

The Rafetus swinhoei rescued in 2008 still survives in the lake.

An update on Hoan Kiem turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) conservation in China. A pair of the species have been kept together since 2008 and produce approximately 150 eggs per year. Unfortunately none of these eggs have hatched and recent studies have indicated that all eggs from the 2014 clutches had no sperm present suggesting the male animal may have some problem. Chinese and international scientists are also undertaking trapping in some sections of the Red river in Yunnan, China to try and locate new animals but without success to date. With animals in both China and Vietnam future collaboration maybe required to save the species. If more animals cannot be found a breeding loan program maybe required.

In an attempts to locate more animals in Vietnam the ATP is also working with Hanoi Fisheries department and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) of the USA to use a new technique called Environmental DNA (eDNA). In the process DNA from animals can be confirmed in water samples taken from lakes, by collecting samples from historic sites the team hopes that at other locations in Vietnam the species can be found allowing for breeding of the species in the future.

Timothy McCormack the Director of the ATP said: “ with the Hoan Kiem Turtle species now so rare in the wild it is possible somewhere in Vietnam animals do survive but are difficult to detect, single animals in a large lake could go unnoticed for year, just think how few people see the Hoan Kiem Turtle in Hanoi despite thousands of people walking around that small lake each day. Through using eDNA we hope to identify sites where we should focus our efforts, if other Rafetus swinhoei can be found at other location in Vietnam we would then have the option to catch and bring them together for controlled breeding. If we do not find new animals the breeding loan program with China might be the last chance for the species which is definitely one of the world’s species most at risk of extinction”.

Explaining the eDNA project: this method relies on collection of water samples which can then be analysed using an extremely sensitive method to find even the smallest trace of DNA of a target species. The species is increasingly used to look for rare or invasive fish or amphibian species around the world. A team of scientists from USA and Europe is collaborating with the Asian Turtle Program and Hanoi Fisheries Department to use the technique for the first time in Vietnam to find Hoan Kiem turtle.

Date: 9th September 2014

Press release by: Pham Van Thong - ATP

Download this press release PDF here: English pdf

Download this press release PDF here: Vietnamese pdf

 

 

Thank you:

 

Support for conservation activities for Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) in Vietnam are supported by Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (CMZ) the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF), Auckland Zoo and Columbus Zoo. We would also like to thank the local community, Kim Son Peoples Committee and Youth Union for helping organise this event.

TCF Columbus zoo

CMZ Auckland Zoo

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For more information please contact:

Asian Turtle Program (ATP) - Indo-Myanmar Conservation
Office: Room#1306, C14 Bac Ha building, To Huu road, Nam Tu Liem district, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: +84 (0) 4 7302 8389
Email: info@asianturtleprogram.org

 

 

 
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