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Forest clearance for plantations a continuing problem in Northern Vietnam

Located 50km northeast of Hanoi, Northern Vietnam, Bac Giang province is a largely mountainous province with varied habitat. Despite the high potential for species diversity amongst tortoise and freshwater turtles in the province little was currently known on distribution and status species in Bac Giang.

This year, in April 2012, following the eighth annual Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Field Skill Training Course held by the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) and Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC), Cuc Phuong National Park Loc Vuong Ngoc, a student of Bac Giang University of Agriculture and Forestry, carried out the first intensive interview survey of the province. During his survey , 28 turtles were observed, including five critically endangered Indochinese box turtle (Cuora galbinifrons) shells, four Elongated tortoises (Indotestudo elongata), and one Chinese three-striped box turtle shell (Cuora trifasciata) . Both the Elongated tortoise and Chinese three-striped box turtle are fully protected under Vietnam national law Decree 32/2006/ND-CP.

Like most turtle species in Asia, wild turtle populations are suffering from habitat loss and degradation and intensive hunting pressure to meet demand in the illegal wildlife trade. Turtle in Bac Giang are facing the same threats. In 2005, forest cover of Bac Giang was 38.60% with natural forest comprising 19.69%, and plantation comprising the rest. Five years later, in 2010, the forest cover dropped suddenly by 9.20% to 29.40%. The natural forest also decreased from 19.69% to 16.40%. This translates to approximately 12,000 ha of primary forest converted into plantation forest. This is an area almost equal to the size of the Tay Yen Tu Nature Refuge (13,022.70ha)* . The forest lost in this area will take decades or more to recover, and may never return to its original rich species diverse state. While local people will be left to face the threats associated with clear-cutting: landslides, runoff, and increased risk of flood events. Its likely continued deforestation is not only making life harder for the wildlife (including turtles), but also people living in the area. Slow moving with late maturity and low fecundity turtles have been show to be particularly at risk from hunting which removes essential mature individuals from a population.

During the Bac Giang survey the risk of habitat loss was clearly visible, six of the eleven observed Keeled Box Turtles (Cuora mouhotii) were found as charred remains amongst recently cleared forest in Luc Nam district. As a forest dependent species it is likely the forest that had been burnt and cleared for plantation forest must have been relatively good quality and much more valuable in terms of species richness than the monoculture plantation to replace it. While Tay Yen Tu Nature Reserve still provides good habitat as a unique and protected area in the province it I clear that following the survey that more needs to be done to maintain existing forest in Bac Giang Province to prevent further forest clearance and protect endangered flora and fauna including tortoise and freshwater turtles.

* Number calculated by forest cover inventory of National Forest Protection Department (


By: Hoang Van Ha – Asian Turtle Program (ATP)

1st May 2012


Download this press release PDF here: English

Above: Fragmented patches of natural forest provide habitat for wildlife Bac Giang province. Tuan Dao Commune, Son Dong District, buffer zone of Tay Yen Tu protected area. Photo by: Pham Van Thong - ATP

turtle remains

Above: This unlucky turtle was unable to outrun the flames from forest clearance. This turtle could easily have lived for another 20 – 30 years in the wild - Photo by: Loc Vuong Ngoc

Above: Over the course of five years, Bac Giang lost 12,000ha of primary forest area, an area almost equal to the whole of Tay Yen Tu Nature Reserve. This photo was taken at Cai Vang Village, Nam Duong Commune, Luc Nam District. Photo by: Pham Van Thong - ATP


Above: Monoculture plantation forest reduces the ecosystem diversity, resulting in more soil and pest problems, which then causes farmers to apply more chemical fertilizers and pesticides to the land. Photo by: Pham Van Thong - ATP


Thank you:


We would like to thank the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong (OPCFHK) for their support for ATP's annual student field training course and students' project following the training. Loc Vuong Ngoc from Bac Giang University of Agriculture and Forestry for his hard work during the survey and Bac Giang Province for their interest in learning more about tortoise and freshwater turtle diversity in the province.

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