Big-headed turtle illegal trade in Vietnam

The Big-Headed Turtle cannot retract its head into its shell due to its over-sized head but it has powerful jaws to defend itself. Photo by: Nguyen Thu Thuy – ATP/IMC.

The Big-Headed Turtle (Platysternon megacephalum) is an endangered turtle species distributed in Northern and Central Vietnam and the neighbouring countries, Laos, Thailand, China, Cambodia. With a large head and elongated beak-like jaw, this species cannot retract its head into its shell. Instead, it is able to use these powerful jaws to defend itself from predators.

Despite this fierce appearance and the fact that it is protected under national law, the Big-Headed Turtle is currently one of the most commonly trafficked turtle species in the illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam. Recently, the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of Indo Myanmar Conservation (IMC) worked with Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) of Cuc Phuong National Park to release 31 turtles back into the wild at the end of September 2018, but almost immediately, 46 more individuals were rescued by police and Thanh Hoa Forest Protection Department (FPD) on 6th of October. Additional seizures took place in October and November 2018; 19 and 26 animals were seized on 26th October and 4th November, respectively.

In one case, individuals from a confiscation in November in Kon Tum were returned to traders who had the required permits for keeping and transporting the turtles issued by the Tam Nong district FPD (Dong Thap province, southern Vietnam). However, CITES has not recorded any cases of successful breeding of this species in Vietnam. This seemingly simple case suggests that the enforcement of criminal relating to wildlife in Vietnam still needs to improve significantly.

Press release by: Hoang Thi Phuong Thao – ATP/IMC
December 2018

Big-Headed Turtles in the Kon Tum confiscation on 4th November 2018, sadly these animals were returned to the traders. Photo by: Jack Carney – ATP/IMC.

This small turtle from the Thanh Hoa confiscation was missing a front leg, this appears to be an old injury that most likely happened in the wild. Photo by: Marie Raasch – ATP/IMC.

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