Habitat Enrichment for the World’s Most Endangered Turtle

During years of observation of Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) at Dong Mo Lake (Hanoi, Vietnam), the Rafetus team has undertaken a number of activities to improve the habitat for the species, widely recognized as the world’s rarest turtle species. We have already established a 7ha no-fishing zone in a core area of the lake and build a nesting sandbank on a small island in the lake. But in 2019 we developed a plan to enrich the turtle’s habitat through the addition of floating grass and bamboo rafts to provide basking opportunities for the turtle(s), particularly in areas where staff of the ATP/IMC have occasionally seen the species basking on the no-fishing zone boundary ropes or bamboo platforms built by local fishermen to encourage fish breeding and rearing. The first floating raft was created in the summer of 2019 with the help of three students from Hong Kong, working as part of an Ocean Park Conservation Foundation (OPCF) grant. Since then, e the best opportunity to document Rafetus at Dong Mo.

Since creating the floating rafts, Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) has been observed frequently in the area. Photo credit: Nguyen Van Trong – ATP/IMC.

Five months after the completion of the floating rafts, we have noticed an increase in the frequency in which the turtle appears in the area containing the rafts. The turtle has been witnessed by ATP staff supporting itself on the grass and spending hours basking in the sun, several times so far, and local fishermen have also reported observing the animal more frequently in this zone.

For instance, in March 2020, the turtle was observed 27 times in the area near the floating rafts (of the total 28 observations in Dong Mo lake by both ATP and local fishermen). In comparison, in March 2019, before the rafts were made, the turtle was observed 4 times in this same zone (of the total 7 observations). As an added bonus for the lake and local fishermen, the raft is believed to be an ideal place for fish to lay eggs to help regenerate aquatic resources.

In March 2020, staff on the lake managed to get photographs of the Rafetus sitting, mostly submerged, on the side of the first raft that was produced by staff and the visiting students!

We are trying to find $5,000 to make repairs to the nesting beach, which loses sand each year as the lake water levels fluctuate, construct some more floating platforms and look at building a floating nesting beach. If you would like to support our Rafetus work, you can visit https://asianturtleprogram.org/donate/ or contact support@asianturtleprogram.org. Thank you!

We would like to thank Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), IUCN, the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF), the British Chelonia Group (BCG), Columbus Zoo, Auckland Zoo, Birdlife International, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Ocean Park Conservation Foundation (OPCF), the Browse Poster UK, Centre for Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES), Education for Nature (ENV), Washington State University, USA as well as a number of private donors for supporting our Rafetus work. We would also like to thank the authorities in Vietnam, the Forest Protection Department (FPD), Fisheries Department, the Biodiversity Conservation Agency (BCA) of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE).

Columbus Zoo

An Alliance for Rafetus Conservation has now been formed with the ATP/IMC, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) and Centre Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES). Together we believe the species can be saved.

Press release: 13th May 2020
Press release by: Nguyen Tài Thang & Jack Carney (ATP/IMC)

Download the English version here

Download the Vietnamese version here

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