From the 16th of April to 15th of May 2006 interview surveys were conducted in Quang Nam Province, central Vietnam for the critically endangered and endemic Vietnamese pond turtle (Mauremys annamensis). This species has not been reported in the wild since 1939 but has continued to be seen in the illegal wildlife trade in small numbers in recent years.
Quang Nam Province was selected for the focus of this study as the species is believed to inhabit lowland wetland areas along the coast of central Vietnam. Moreover, the original 1939 record for the species was reported for Fai-Fo, an area of Quang Nam Province now know as Hoi An.
Wildlife traders were initially interviewed in order to trace trade animals back to source areas, where interviews with fishermen and local hunters would lead investigators to sites where the species could still be found in the wild.
The month-long survey resulted in a total of eight live Mauremys annamensis observed and shell remains of an eight individual. One of the turtles was in a temple pond in Hoi An town were it had been kept for many years. Another turtle was being kept as a pet in Tien Phuoc district. Four animals were observed in the hands of a small-time trader who was able to identify two communes where he reportedly purchased the turtles. Following this lead from the trader, interviews in two districts succeeded in finding two more turtles being kept as pets by local people. The local people were able to identify specific sites within their commune where the turtles were collected, and the results of interviews in surrounding villages supported the assertion that Mauremysannamensis is currently present in the area.
Based on these surveys, one commune has been selected for additional work in September or October 2006, to try and capture Mauremys annamensis in the wild. Two other communes have been identified for which future surveys are needed.
Principal threats to Mauremys annamensis include both habitat loss and continued hunting. The species’ apparent preference for ponds and streams in lowland areas must compete with expansion of intensive lowland agriculture. Juveniles and adults continue to be hunted and sold into the trade where they are in most cases smuggled to China and sold as food or medicine.
The Vietnamese government recently added Mauremys annamensis to the list of protected species. The Asian Turtle Program has carried out four surveys spanning three provinces in hopes of finding source areas where wild populations remain. Once a site is found, a project will be launched aimed at protecting the species in-situ utilizing enhanced enforcement measures, awareness, and community participation in conservation efforts.
Other valuable information was obtained on species occurring in Quang Nam Province and the current exploitation of these animals in the wildlife trade. Seven species additional to Mauremys annamensiswere observed in the trade, Sacalia quadriocellata, Cuora bourreti, Cuora mouhotii, Cyclemys pulchristriata, Pelodiscus sinensis, Platysternon megacephalum and Ocadia sinensis.
Field report by: Tim McCormack, Field Project Coordinator, The Asian Turtle Program & Nguyen Xuan Thuan, Field Officer, the Asian Turtle Program
30th May 2008
This survey was conducted by the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) with cooperation of the Quang Nam Forest Protection Department (FPD) and WWF’s MOSAIC project based in Quang Nam Province. With funding support from the German Ministry of Environment and the Allwetter Muenster Zoo.