Field surveys for the endemic Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora picturata) Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam

From the 17th to 24th of September 2011, the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo conducted a field survey in Khanh Hoa province, Vietnam for the Lesser Indochinese Box turtle (Cuora picturata), an endemic and critically endangered tortoise species. Earlier in September 2011 a team from the ATP visited six districts in Khanh Hoa province to interview local hunters and traders and discovered that a number of rare tortoise and freshwater turtle species inhabit the province. Particular interesting information for Cuora picturata came from Ninh Tay Commune in Ninh Hoa District near the border between Khanh Hoa and Dak Lak Provinces.

Its clear hunting has greatly diminished turtle populations in the area as is the case seen throughout much of Southeast Asia. But the Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuorapicturata) is of particular interest to the ATP. One of the 13 species found in the Cuora genus it’s a serious risk of extinction. The localized endemic is critically endangered and remained without known populations in the wild until a team from Ho Chi Minh City University of Science found the species in the Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa province in 2010.

The September 2011 survey used time search, aquatic trapping and dogs. Conducted during the rainy season in central Vietnam the conditions appeared ideal for turtles with the team finding a single Lesser Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora picturata) and three Keeled Box turtles (Cuora mouhotii). Within Ninh Hoa district plenty of suitable habitat remains with this site expanding the known range of Cuora picturata significantly.

Over harvesting for the illegal wildlife trade, mostly for demand from China for food market and traditional medicine is the biggest threat to Cuora picturata. As a Vietnamese endemic inclusion of the species in Decree 32, Vietnam’s main wildlife protection law, and listing of the species under CITES appendix I would reduce national trade and illegal cross boarder trade to China. At present the species is also not known to occur in any protected areas, if this is the case the establishment of a protected area for the species would be highly recommended to help secure its remaining presence in the wild in Vietnam.

As well as additional surveys for the species the ATP also intends to conduct community activities at key sites and work with the relevant wildlife protection authorities to ensure priority populations of this important box turtle survive.

Written by: Nguyen Van Luc & Tim McCormack – Asian Turtle Program

22nd March 2012

Survey by: Nguyen Van Luc, Hoang Van Ha, Duong Dinh Vuong- Asian Turtle Program Field Officers.

Thank you:



The survey was a part of conservation projects supported by the Critically Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (MBZ) to develop a strategy for conservation of important tortoise and freshwater turtle species in Vietnam. We would also like to thank Khanh Hoa Province Forest Protection Department for support during the survey.

Image Library:

Above: Dense undergrowth in which one Cuora mouhotii was found
Above: The survey team and local guides find the Cuora picturata
Above: A sub-adult Cuora mouhotii found by hunting dogs under a heap of bamboo leaves
Above: Nguyen Van Luc and Hoang Van Ha of the ATP take data from turtles caught during the field survey
Above: Cuora picturata hiding in the wild

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