Asian Turtle Program
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No. 100, 4th October 2013

1. The Cuora genus in severe trouble

DATE: 31 st July, 2013

All box turtles of the Cuora genus have an endangered status ranging from vulnerable for Cuora amboinensis to critically endangered for Cuora yunnanensis . All 12 Cuora species are listed under CITES II with a zero export quota for wild specimens for commercial purposes with the exception for Cuora amboinensis having no zero quota. Asian countries and China in particular have a long history regarding consuming wildlife, especially turtles, for example, there still is a strong belief that eating turtles will cure cancer and other diseases, will give you a healthy and sexual active live. Apart from eating the meat of the animals, traditional Chinese medicine are made from the remains. Since the 70s and early 80s large numbers of freshwater turtle species from the Cuora genus have been sold on the Asian food markets for these purposes. Half of the Cuora species did not have a historic large habitat range and did probably not occur in large numbers in the wild. The critical status of these Cuora genus species was assessed and documented for the first time at the Workshop on Conservation and Trade of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises in Asia by Van Dijk, Stuart and Rhodin in 1999. A few species (Cuora zhoui, C. mccordi, C. yunnanensis) have been described from the food market specimens for the first time during the 80s. Hardly a decade later were these species already assumed to be extinct in the wild. C. yunnanensis however was rediscovered in 2004. Of the majority of the 12 Cuora species there is hardly seen any commercial trade nowadays. Cuora galbinifrons and Cuora mouhoti are sometimes seen in small numbers in food markets. With the rarity of Asian species in the wild and as such reduced numbers available for human consumption, imports of Cuora amboinensis from the Philippines and Indonesia increased. It will be a matter of time that this species reaches the same status as the others. Moreover, large numbers died due to long trips from the countries of origin via the transit ports (often Hong Kong) to the importing countries such as Japan, USA and Europe during the early 80s. At present limited numbers of these imports are still alive. The endangered status of the majority of these species was already acknowledged in the 90s resulting in studbook/breeding programs within the private turtle keeper societies in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Some of the European Studbook Foundation (ESF) studbooks are properly managed and coordinated and some need improvement. Some are managed in close cooperation with the zoos of Munster and Rotterdam. In spite of these positive sides for the majority of the Cuora studbook species a lot more efforts have to be put into the management and coordination resulting in the increase of the studbook populations. Also better communication and cooperation between studbook keepers and participants are essential. And finally the communication between the ESF board and the Cuora studbook keepers needs improvement.

Link to this web article online (English)

McCord's box turtle (Cuora mccordi)
© Rotterdam Zoo

Chinese three-striped box turtle (Cuora trifasciata)
© Münster Zoo

Bourret's box turtle (Cuora bourreti)

Southeast Asian box turtle (Cuora amboinensis)

2. Nghe An province, Vietnam: Origin of the sacred turtle revealed

Follow-up Bulletin No. 99

DATE: 1st October, 2013

On the 22nd of September, at around 2am, Mrs Nam found a yellow-headed temple turtle (Heosemys annandalii) walking into her house. A lot of curious people who have visited Mrs Nam and the turtle claim that the turtle is sacred as it “must have lived” for more than a hundred years. Some people enquired to buy the turtle and offered of up to 90 million VND ($4,230) but Mrs Nam has declined every offer. Everything gets more superstitious as her family even put up a “donation box” and promised to use the donations for the turtle. In reality, a neighbor of Mrs Nam, Mr Thai Minh Hien, who lives 1 km away from her house, is laughing at this ridiculous story, and claims that in fact he is the owner of the turtle. He bought the turtle in 2012 in Dien Chau district (Nghe An province) for 2 million VND ($94) and kept it in the pond in front of his house. The turtle is believed to have damaged the surrounding net and slipped through it on the 21 st of September. Two days before its escape, Mr Hien had given it a thorough rinse as it was covered with moss. Hearing about the sacred turtle, he went over to Mrs Nam's house and asked for his turtle back but she refused to give it back. One might ask themselves why Mr Hien can be so sure that the turtle is his, but the damaged net at his house and the man in Dien Chau district who sold the turtle to him are proof enough and support claims. Mr Nguyen Sy Hung – Deputy Chairman of People's Committee of Yen Thanh district said: “The People's Committee of Yen Thanh, along with the Forest Protection Unit, have tried to persuade the family to release the turtle back to the wild (we plan to release it in Pu Mat National Park) but they refuse to transfer the turtle. If they don't change their mind soon we will confiscate the turtle.”

ATP NOTE: this species is not native to Nghe An province, occurring in Southern Vietnam. Large numbers have been confiscated in the trade through the province on route to China.

Link to this web article online (Vietnamese)


© Hoàng Phạm


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