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The Cuora Box Turtle Project



Turtles of the genus Cuora are considered some of the most critically important for conservation as they have been seen in large numbers in the illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam and China. While illegal collection from the wild is the main threat to the species, habitat loss throughout its range is also concern. Of seven species of Cuora occurring or believed to occur in Vietnam five are critically endangered and one is endangered. Three important species within the genus are the Indochinese Box Turtles, (Cuora galbinifrons), Bourret's Box Turtle (Cuora bourreti) , the Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora picturata). All of these species are critically endangered (IUCN, 2010) the latter two of which are localized endemics found only in central Vietnam (Stuart & Pharam 2004).

Another ATP priority species is the Keeled box turtle (Cuora mouhotii) and the subspecies Cuora mouhotii obsti . Despite the Keeled box turtle's large distribution, it is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and numbers have declined drastically in some areas.

Above: (Left to Right) Cuora galbinifrons, Cuora bourreti and Cuora picturata

Above: Cuora mouhotii at the Turtle Conservation Centre in
Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam



The Indochinese box turtle has a relatively small range, it occurs in China, Laos and north & central Vietnam while Bourret's box turtles are thought to be endemic to Central Vietnam and the Lesser Indochinese box turtle endemic to the southern mountainous regions of Vietnam.
The Keeled box turtle has a larger range, it occurs in China, Vietnam, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Thailand, Myanmar and in India (Ernst, Altenburg and Barbour, 1997; The Asian Turtle Consortium, 2007; EMBL Reptile Database, 2007). Its subspecies Cuora mouhotii obsti occurs in the Annam mountain range in central Vietnam.

(Cuora galbinifrons)

(Cuora bourreti)

(Cuora picturata)
(Cuora mouhotii &
Cuora mouhotii obsti)


Cuora galbinifrons, Cuora bourreti and Cuora picturata are terrestrial species that occur in woodlands and evergreen forests at mid to high elevations in their respective range (see range maps above).

Cuora mouhotii, also a terrestrial species, occurs in forests often associated with limestone areas. The species is frequently found in small caves and rock crevices of rocky, mountainous regions.



Above left: View on Sao La Nature reserve, a large forest with plenty of good habitat left for Cuora bourreti (picture taken during field survey in Sao La Nature reserve in 2011 where the ATP field team was lucky enough to find a wild Bourret's box turtle)

Above right: A Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora picturata) with typical pattern found in the wild during a field survey in Deo Ca – Hon Nua Special Use Forest in Phu Yen province, Southern Vietnam in May 2012



Intensive hunting pressure throughout the range of these Cuora species has dramatically reduced wild populations. The over-collection for local consumption and for the national and international food and pet trade poses a major threat to these species which is also compounded by habitat loss and degradation, due to deforestation and shifting cultivation.
With growth to maturity taking over a decade and low fecundity, only two or three eggs laid a year, this species is unable to sustain even low levels of collection. Globally they also remain poorly represented in captive collections in zoos or in assurance colonies and have proven difficult to keep or breed in captivity.

Above: In 2007 the Danang Forest Protection Department (FPD) confiscated these box turtles (Cuora bourreti and Cuora mouhotii). All animals were transferred to the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) in Cuc Phuong National Park. Confiscations like this have become rare, indicating that wild populations of box turtles in Vietnam are nearly depleted


Links to ATP Cuora project activities:

20th March 2013 - Interview survey produce nearly 50 records for turtles in Central Vietnam

19th March 2013 - School and Community Programs raise the profile of endangered turtles in central Vietnam

24th October 2012 - Confiscated turtles from Ha Tinh province transferred to the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC)

2nd June 2012 - Site based awareness activities for conservation follow surveys of priority species in Vietnam

21st May 2012 - Endemic Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora picturata) under threat in Vietnam

1st May 2012 - Forest clearance for plantations a continuing problem in Northern Vietnam

19th March 2012 - School programs increase awareness for turtle species only found in the wild in 2010

3rd January 2012 - Two endemic Bourret's box turtles start the New Year back in the wild

11th December 2011 - Field surveys find Bourret's box turtle (Cuora bourreti) in Sao La Nature Reserve Thua Thien Hue Province, Vietnam

23rd October 2011 - Internet advert leads to the rescue of a Critically Endangered Indochinese Box Turtle

5th October 2011 - Investigating the tortoise and freshwater turtle fauna of Xuan Nha Nature Reserve in the highlands of northern Vietnam

24th September 2011 - Field surveys for the endemic Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora picturata) Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam

21st July 2011 - Turtle detection dogs start getting results

11th July 2011 - Interview survey for the Indochinese Box turtle around Pu Hu Nature Reserve in Northern Vietnam

20th May 2011 - Lucky Keeled Box Turtles make it home after a close call with traders

4th May 2011 -Critically endangered turtle rescued by student after participating in field skill training course

9th October 2009 - Keeled box turtle rescued following web monitoring

April 2008 - Interview survey for the Keeled Box turtle in Pu Hu Natural Reserve and Cuc Phuong National Park

August 2006 - The Indochinese Box Turtle (Coura bourreti) field mission in central Vietnam.

The beginnings of a species conservation strategy.

Coura bouretti

21st November 2005 - “God give me strength” Keeled Box Turtle (Cuora mouhotii) rescued


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Asian Turtle Program (ATP) - Indo-Myanmar Conservation
Office: Room#1806, C14 Bac Ha building, To Huu Street,
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)4 7302 8389

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