From the 8th to 15th of September 2011, a non-lethal trapping survey was carried out by a research team of the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. The survey in lowlands of Binh Khuong Commune, Binh Son, Quang Ngai province, central Vietnam to learn more about the area. It is already a site of a focused conservation project on the endemic and critically endangered Vietnamese Pond Turtle (Mauremys annamensis).
With interviews conducted since 2008 by the ATP identified a number of priority localities for a range of important species. Findings in Binh Son district indicate that a number of rare and important semi-aquatic freshwater turtle species occur in the area, with six individuals of Vietnamese Pond turtles observed in local households during interviews. Trapping at another nearby wetland in October 2008 caught an individual juvenile Chinese stripe necked turtle (Mauremys sinensis) also endangered having suffered a dramatic decline throughout its historic range in China and Vietnam.
Ho Da Lake is one of the three man-made lakes designated for inclusion in a new Species Habitat Conservation Area (SHCA) in Quang Ngai province which the ATP is working to establish with the provincial Forest Protection Department (FPD) and Peoples Committee. The area comprises approximately 40ha with lakes and boggy streams fragmented by plantation forest in a lowland area. With most such wetland areas already lost to aquaculture and agriculture this remnant provides suitable habitat for fresh-water turtle species. The ATP has hired a number of local counterparts to patrol the site and provide vital information.
During the survey warm but drizzly weather provided good conditions for trapping turtles. 17 non-lethal aquatic traps were set up along the edge of the lake in areas covered by vegetation and where the water was shallow and calm. Checked daily early each morning and patrolled frequently during the day, it was on the third survey day a group of four Chinese stripe necked turtles (Mauremys sinensis) were caught in a single trap. This remarkable capture was described as a “turtle family” by an excited local counterpart, Mr Phong, who believed that the group of animals were related and foraging together. On the sixth survey day, another Mauremys sinensis was trapped in a different trap. All of the turtles were measured, photographed and DNA samples collected before being notched with identity numbers and released back into the wild.
The capture of Chinese stripe necked turtles instead of Vietnamese Pond Turtles does not come as a surprise to the team. With the rarer Vietnamese Pond Turtles less often observed in the trade and described by local hunters and traders as occurring in lower densities. Although the species occur sympatrically a ratio of 5:1 for Chinese Stripe Necked Turtles to Vietnamese Pond Turtles is often described.
The trapping of five Chinese stripe necked turtles at the site is promising as this species has also become increasingly rare in Vietnam due to over collection and it is hope that activities to protect the Vietnamese Pond Turtle will also benefit this and other species. Indeed all the data collected by the team so far indicate that this small fragment of habitat in Quang Ngai province might be the best remaining site for conservation of the lowland wetland species throughout its range from Da Nang to Phu Yen provinces. Nguyen Van Luc the ATP central Vietnam manager said “Its exciting to know that turtles are still out there in good numbers, this area clearly still holds viable populations and will be our main focus for conservation activities in the coming years”.
Written by: Duong Dinh Vuong & Sarah Wahl – Asian Turtle Program
Survey by: Duong Dinh Vuong – Asian Turtle Program Field Officer and Bui Phong – the Asian Turtle Program local counterpart
19th January 2012