Vietnamesevietnamese Englishenglish  



The Swinhoe's Softshell Turtle
(Rafetus swinhoei) Project

The critically endangered Swinhoe's Soft-shell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), a large soft-shell turtle first described in 1873 but for which little has been learned since. Now the species is listed by the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF) in 2018 amongst the top 25 endangered turtles in the world. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as Critically-Endangered in their red list, 2017. Considered by many to be the world's most endangered turtle species, at present, only four animals are known in existence - two which have been brought together in China's Suzhou Zoo in the hope of breeding, one found in Vietnam's Dong Mo Lake in 2007 and the fourth was recently confirmed with eDNA evidence in Xuan Khanh Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam. Both findings were made possible thanks to the arduous work of the ATP team.

The species, believed to be on the verge of extinction, has special cultural significance in Vietnam. The species was famous for indiduals inhabitating Hoan Kiem lake, in the centre of Hanoi, which linked to a 15th century legend. Unfortunately, in January 2016, the last remaining Rafetus swinhoei in Hoan Kiem lake died.

Distribution: Historically, the Red River drainage system and other large rivers in northern Vietnam and southern China

Habitat: Large Rivers and adjacent wetlands and lakes, including Dong Mo Lake

Threats: Major causes of their decline are habitat loss, hunting and trade, historically mostly for local consumption


Rafetus swinhoei

Hoan Kiem Lake




Activities to date
Since 2003, the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has conducted interview surveys for Rafetus swinhoei in eight provinces of northern Vietnam. During surveys, the shells and skulls of six Rafetus were found and a number of sites where the species historically occurred and potentially remains were identified. At three primary sites in Thanh Hoa, Ha Tay and Yen Bai, six months of observations have been made. During 2007, at Dong Mo Lake in Ha Tay province, a wild Rafetus swinhoei was observed and photographed, representing the first confirmation of the species in the wild and only the fourth individual of the species known in existence

The Rafetus conservation program has maintained a full time presence at the project site at Dong Mo Lake since January 2007. The local counterpart, previously a fisherman on the lake, has lived in the local village all his life. He is well known in the local community and through his involvement in the monitoring, the project receives good community support.

A workshop was held in April 2009 with the lake owners, local schools, FPD, Peoples Committee and management from a golf course situated on a peninsula in the lake. Education programs are already being undertaken in local schools by our local partner, Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV).

Upon discovery of the wild Rafetus swinhoei, a permanent presence was established at the site, school awareness programs were initiated, regular patrols of the area were started and meetings with local fishermen were undertaken. In November 2008, a Rafetus swinhoei weighing 69 kg and measuring 90 cm in length was rescued from local trade. This animal, believed to be the same one observed in Dong Mo and washed out during a flood when a dam burst, was recovered and returned to the lake through cooperation with the local community, Peoples Committee, Forest Protection Department (FPD) and a local NGO and counterpart, Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV). The rescue of this animal was only possible due to the presence of ATP in the community and awareness activities that had already been undertaken.

In April 2018, ATP was able to confirm the fourth individual of Rafetus swinhoei in Xuan Khanh lake, near Hanoi and Dong Mo lake thanks to eDNA technique.

Ongoing awareness & research
The future of this species in Vietnam is uncertain. Conservationists have been conducting surveys along large river in northern Vietnam to learn more about the species and in the hope of finding others individuals surviving in the wild. While here in Dong Mo local fishermen are working with a conservation team to study and protect the Dong Mo turtles and look for additional animals.

In additional, the special lesson and community meeting has been designed for the secondary schools and local people who stay nearby Dong Mo Lake to encourage them to protect their pride. The Turtle football cup and Boat race have also been carried out by the ATP to create greater community support for the species.

In September 2010, a new awareness poster for the Rafetus swinhoei has been produced by ATP. The poster is to be distributed during interview surveys throughout northern Vietnam conducted by the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) searching for additional animals and habitat. As well as increasing awareness to the importance of these large turtles and their link to the sacred animal in Hanoi the poster also carries contact information allowing people to report information on possible additional sites for the species

Champion Team Dong Mo football 2012

Annually the ATP organizes a football cup to to promote awareness and conservation of the critically endangered Swinhoe's Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)

Dong Mo dam

A new dam constructed in 2010 poses a threat to Rafetus swinhoei

Future research and conservation needs

Need for better protection, of the species and its habitat. Dong Mo Lake, the only known wild habitat for the species could be provided protected habitat status either as a Nature Reserve or Species Habitat Conservation Area (SHCA).

Protection under national law, despite the rarity of the species and the cultural importance of the animal in Hanoi it remains unprotected under national law.

At present the animal in Dong Mo Lake is at risk from a new dam constructed in 2010 to replace the old dam destroyed during flooding. When gates on the dam are opened during high water the animal could escape again, a secure fence built before the dam would prevent any escape.

Continued field work to identify any remain populations of the species in Vietnam and China is of urgent importance.

Consideration of a breeding loan program to bring the animal in Dong Mo lake for breeding with captive animals in China could be considered if additional wild animals can not be located.

Other conservation projects in the world

Efforts are being made in China to artificially inseminate the female Swinhoe's softshell turtle (Rafetus Swinhoei). 

In April 2016 efforts were made again to artificially inseminate the female Rafetus swinhoei in Shouzou Zoo, China. With only 3 animals currently known in existence and the male In China unable to mate naturally due to an old injury from a fight with another male the importance of these efforts cannot be under estimated. 

Semen from the male was collected and surgically implanted into the females oviduct to try and ensure any viable semen successfully arrives at the eggs. 

Good luck and well done to all those involved.

Link to the article online




November 2018 - More than one individual of Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle living in Dong Mo lake? fishing in Dong Mo lake
October 2018 - Rafetus habitat in Vietnam being disturbed again fishing in Dong Mo lake
11th July 2018 - The home of the Hoan Kiem turtle under threat from intensive fishing fishing in Dong Mo lake
20th June 2018 - On-going effort to find more wild Rafetus in northern Vietnam Quang Ninh observation
6th June 2018 - Event series organized in Kim Son commune, Son Tay, Vietnam boat race in Dong Mo lake
May 2018 - Implementation of smartphone-based environmental DNA testing and capture technologies to detect Rafetus swinhoei in the wild eDNA training
24th April 2018 - Training workshop to prevent electrofishing in the world’s rarest turtle’s habitat electrofishing
11th April 2018 - Environmental DNA helps confirm a new individual of the world’s rarest turtle in the wild - 4 animals now known Rafetus swinhoei
19th March 2018 - Special school performace held "Together to conserve Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle" in Son Dong, Son Tay, Vietnam. school program in Dong Mo
19th January 2018 - The best photograph so far of the world’s rarest turtle in the wild Rafetus swinhoei
20th October 2017 - Fishing Agreement Signed to Conserve World's Rarest Turtle No-hunting-agreement
14th October 2017 - New net gets installed to protect the Dong Mo Turtle Dong Mo new net
10th October 2017 - Celebrating the Mid-autumn festival for children at Dong Mo Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam Dong Mo mid autumn festival
2nd October 2017 - School children in Vietnam learn about the world's rarest turtle living next door Dong Mo school program
16th September 2017 - Typhoon Doksuri hits Vietnam, the most powerful storm in a decade puts the world’s rarest turtle at risk. Dong Mo dam
15th September 2017 - Kids Football matches for turtle conservation in Dong Mo Lake, Vietnam Dong Mo kid football
22nd May 2017 - Native fish species released at Dong Mo Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
18th May 2017 - Third boat race organised in support of the world rarest freshwater turtle.  
February 2017 - The 'Dong Mo Football Cup' organised to support conservation of the world’s rarest turtle  
January 2017 - Happy new year from the Dong Mo Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) photographed by the ATP team on the 3rd January 2017.
6th October 2016 - Net preventing the Dong Mo Rafetus swinhoei from escaping replaced  Dong Mo net
29th September 2016 - Training of Rafetus local counterpart from northern Vietnam local couterpart training
21st April 2016 - Vietnamese scientists are collaborating with German experts to start the preservation by plasticisation of the Hoan Kiem Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei).  
March 2016 - First ever video of the world’s rarest turtle in the wild - Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)
23rd March 2016 - Decision made on the preservation technique for the Hoan Kiem Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)  
29th January 2016 - What next for the Hoan Kiem Turtle? Dong Mo turtle
22nd January 2016 - Can the legend of Hoan Kiem Live On? Hoan Kiem turtle death
20th January 2016 - The death of the Hoan Kiem Turtle, Hanoi Vietnam - Farewell to a legend Hoan Kiem turtle death
December 2015 - Reptile enforcement training in Thanh Hoa province, northern Vietnam focuses on the world rarest turtle Thanh Hoa training
July 2015 - Kids Football For turtle Conservation in Northern Vietnam rafetus kid football 2015
30th June 2015 - No hunting agreement from local fishermen helps protect the world’s rarest turtle No hunting agreement
25th June 2015 - Another potential site for Rafetus swinhoei identified in Vietnam Lake with information on Rafetus
15th April 2015 - Harmful fishing methods threaten the world’s most endangered turtle species in Vietnam. electro-fishing
13th March 2015 - Second boat race organized to support the world’ss rarest turtle Dong Mo boat race logo
12th March 2015 - Fifth football match organized to support conservation of the worlds rarest turtle Dong Mo football cup small
9th February 2015 - New no fishing zone created to protect the world's rarest turtle No fishing zone

27th January 2015 - New nesting beach built in the hope of attracting the worlds rarest turtle


sand bank
22nd January 2015 - Worlds most distinguished turtle experts gather at Hoan Kiem Lake to reminisce Peter Pitchard visit
2015 - Update on Hoan Kiem Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) Hoan Kiem turtle
9th September 2014 - Mid-Autumn Festival held in Vietnam to support the worlds most endangered turtle Rafetus festival
16th May 2014 - Spring sees increased activity in the worlds rarest turtle
16th May 2014 - The fate of large softshell turtles in Vietnam

12th June 2014 - Ex-softshell hunter becomes a conservationist

hook line
6th March 2014 - Fourth football cup raises awareness to worlds rarest turtle
27th February 2014 - Species of the Rafetus genus increasingly endangered
14th January 2014 - Fishermen using technology to assist conservation monitoring in rural Vietnam
2nd December 2013 - New Law Protects Priority Turtles In Vietnam
11th October 2013 - Conservation of Hoan Kiem turtle(Rafetus swinhoei) in Dong Mo Lake: Close Call as Dam is Opened
24th September 2013 - Mid-Autumn festival at Dong Mo Lake raises awareness to worlds rarest turtle

9th October 2012 - Third annual “Turtle Football Cup” held at Dong Mo Lake, Vietnam

19th January 2012 - Action needed to protect the world's most endangered turtles only wild habitat

2nd January 2012 - Fishing Agreement Signed to Conserve World's Rarest Turtle

14th December 2011 - ENV puplishes Green Forest magazine titled: Swinhoe's turtle legend

12th July 2011 - Hoan Kiem Turtle released after treatment

6th May 2011 - Art competition for the world's most endangered turtle inspires thousands of school children in Vietnam

27th April 2011 - New notebooks distributed for Rafetus swinhoei awareness

24th April 2011 - Football raises local awareness to worlds rarest turtle

6th April 2011 - Hoan Kiem Turtle, the rescue 2011

October 2010 - Boat race at Dong Mo Lake for Rafetus swinhoei

October 2010 - New awareness poster produced for Swinhoe's softshell turtle, Rafetus swinhoei

November 2008 - One of the worlds rarest turtles rescued in Vietnam


Thank you:


We would like to thank all those who have supported our work and the Rafetus swinhoei Project. The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Birdlife International, Columbus Zoo, Melbourne Zoo and the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF). As well as local partners and agencies, Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), the Forest Protection Department (FPD) and the People's Committee of Vietnam.

birdlife Columbus Zoo TCF

CEPFMelbourne Zoo

Support Our Conservation Activities, if you would like our program and activities please visit our donations page or click the donate button

For more information please contact:

Asian Turtle Program (ATP) - Indo-Myanmar Conservation
Office: Room#1806 CT1, C14 Bac Ha Building, To Huu Road, Nam Tu Liem district, Hanoi, Vietnam
PO Box 46
Tel: +84 (0) 4 7302 8289

MBZ ATP would like to thanks the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund for supporting this website
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

Also in the News Vietnam

Other information that might be of interest to you follow this link

Support the Program

For more information on supporting the Asian Turtle Program please contact us