On the 21st of May 2019, reports started to circulate on social media of large animals in a section of the Chay River near Coc Pai town in Hà Giang province near a newly completed dam. Large groups of locals have been gathering to see the animals. From the video and phone conversations we were not able to determine clearly what these sightings could be.
We decided to take the 8 hour trip from Ha Noi to visit the site to find out. After travelling through the high mountains of Lao Cai province on winding roads dropping from 1300m to 350m, it didn’t take us long once at the site to get out on the river. Large fish were seen within the first hour near the waters surface, making large dark shadows in the water with occasional bubbles. Most of the day was spent observing the river but nothing was seen that suggested large turtles, such as the Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei). We had hoped to see a head break the water or the tell-tail carapace floating in the water’s surface. Talking with excited crowds at the rivers edge, they had seen the large dark shadows but neither heads nor carapaces.
We believe that the change to the river as the dam started to fill two months ago has changed this section from a fast flowing river with rocky banks to a deeper lake-like waterbody. This has probably changed the way people view the wildlife in the lake, making the fish more visible and causing excitement.
Staff from the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) did conduct interviews in Hà Giang Province, including this section of river, in 2012 but did not have any information for Rafetus swinhoei in this area.
Press release: 24th May 2019
Press release by: Timothy McCormack & Nguyen Tài Thang ATP/IMC