Update on Rafetus and proposed trapping at Dong Mo Lake, Vietnam, in 2020

Despite the current crisis, staff of the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of Indo Myanmar Conservation (IMC) are still working hard to conserve and protect tortoises and freshwater turtles in Vietnam. One of ATP/IMC’s main focuses is the world’s rarest turtle, Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei); the Rafetus project continues to monitor the activities of known wild individuals in Vietnam as well as search for additional turtles in other areas.

The main activity of 2020 is the proposed trapping and capture of one of the two known wild Rafetus at Dong Mo lake, Hanoi, northern Vietnam. It is something which has been in preparation for several years and we are looking forward to getting it done this year if the current climate permits. While we wait for the opportunity to arise again, we would like to give an update on what has been done in recent months at Dong Mo.

In 2019, we began improving various features at the lake to assist with monitoring and observing the Rafetus. Firstly, a stilt house was built on the main observation island in Dong Mo, constructed from bamboo cut from the island itself; this house helps staff watch over the lake during the long hot days and will be a hub for the trapping teams this year. Secondly, we have been building grass-covered bamboo floating rafts, again with locally sourced bamboo, to give the turtle more opportunities for basking in view of ATP staff. Recently, the turtle was photographed using one of these rafts, one which was built with the support of a group of students from Hong Kong. Both additions to the lake, the stilt house and the rafts, have already shown to be helpful for Rafetus conservation at Dong Mo.

Earlier in 2020, a team of divers from Hai Phong Institute of Fisheries visited the lake to examine the lakebed to help design the nets for enclosing the trapping area. This was also beneficial for adding to knowledge of the lake and understanding how the turtle might use the habitat. Within the trapping area, we will use other nets and traps to capture the turtle. In the last few months, we have been checking and altering our deep-water traps to make sure they are safe and effective.

Finally, we have been working hard with the other members of the Rafetus Alliance to finalise the details of the capture process. ATP/IMC, Hanoi Fisheries Department (Hanoi FD) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have all signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) so that all parties know their roles and the capture will run smoothly. The People’s Committee of Hanoi (Hanoi PC), a local governmental branch, has also agreed that the capture can go ahead.

We are continuing to collaborate with our partners on the capture plan, as well as our daily work on the lake, and hope that we can go ahead with the plan soon, before turning our attention to trapping at the nearby Xuan Khanh lake, the site of the second, and only other known, wild Rafetus in the world.

We would like to thank all our of partners, donors and supporters for the Rafetus project: 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), Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), 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).

To learn more about the ATP/IMC and conservation work that is ongoing for the species, please visit our website (www.asianturtleprogram.org)

12th May 2020

Press Release by: Nguyen Tai Thang and Jack Carney – ATP/IMC

ATP NewsRafetus project

Dong Mo lakeHoan Kiem turtleSwinhoe's Softshell Turtleturtle conservationRafetus swinhoei

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