turtles rescued from Hong Kong market
|Soup mix: These
lucky turtles were transported to the Turtle Conservation Centre in Cuc
Phuong National Park. — Photo courtesy of Asian Turtle Programme
Thirty-four rare pond
turtles were returned to Viet Nam last week, marking the first time that
smuggled wildlife was repatriated to the country.
The turtles, critically
endangered Vietnamese pond turtles, Mauremys annamensis, were transferred
on Cathay Pacific’s regular flight from Hong Kong to Noi Bai International
The turtles, which
included two adults rescued from Hong Kong markets and 32 offspring born in
captivity, were returned by the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, a private Hong
Kong-based foundation that cares for rescued wildlife and works in close
co-operation with the Hong Kong Agriculture Fisheries Conservation Department.
Viet Nam is home to 25
native species of tortoises and freshwater turtles, earning the country
recognition as one of the region’s most biologically diverse hotspots for
Among this impressive
diversity of species is the Vietnamese pond turtle, an endemic species native to
lowland ponds and marshes in central Viet Nam, and found no where else in the
world, according to the Asian Turtle Conservation Network (ATCN).
Last recorded in the wild
in 1939, the Vietnamese pond turtle has since become rare as a result of
unsustainable hunting and trade to meet the demand of export markets, as well as
loss of its lowland habitat, mostly to agricultural development.
trade of turtles has all but wiped out wild populations of many species
throughout the country," says Douglas Hendrie, a conservationist living in
Viet Nam who specialises in freshwater turtles.
"Small populations of
turtles may remain in some parks and protected areas," says Hendrie.
"But even these remaining turtles are under tremendous pressure from
hunters and collectors, feeding the insatiable demand from markets in
Viet Nam’s new wildlife
protection law for the first time specifically lists the Vietnamese pond turtle
as a protected species that may not be bought, sold, traded, or consumed without
a permit from the government, ATCN reports.
The Vietnamese pond turtle
is also listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of
Endangered Species (CITES) banning export of the species without a specific
CITES permit from the national government.
But Hendrie says that he would like to see all of Viet Nam’s freshwater
turtles protected under the law with the exception of the Chinese soft-shell
turtle, Pelodiscus sinensis.
The IUCN Global Red List
of Threatened Species lists more than half of Viet Nam’s turtle species as
critically endangered or endangered, however only seven species are protected
under Vietnamese law.
Hendrie also stressed the
need for more stringent punishment of violators of Viet Nam’s wildlife
"In most cases, the
trade of wildlife in Viet Nam is not treated as a serious crime, despite the
lasting impact that hunting and trade has clearly had on the country’s natural
"Traders rarely get
more than a fine or a slap on the wrist for breaking the law," Hendrie
As a result, most
conservationists agree that there are few deterrents to discourage people from
engaging in the illegal wildlife business.
Last week’s returnees
and their offspring were transferred to the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) at
Cuc Phuong National Park where the government runs a conservation programme for
critically endangered species, including the Vietnamese pond turtle.
"Eventually, the turtles may be released in central Viet Nam where they
originated," says Bui Dang Phong, manager of the TCC for Cuc Phuong
Phong says he is elated to
see that the turtles finally made it back to Viet Nam.
The Vietnamese pond
turtles are undoubtedly ignorant of the journey they have made. From the marshes
of Quang Nam Province to the markets of China, only to be plucked from a crate
destined for sure demise, and eventually repatriated with their native land.
Though their journey is not over, the lucky returnees and their 32 young that
have never set foot in their native marshes of central Viet Nam, are perhaps
happy to be immersed in the cool waters of their new temporary home at the Cuc
Phuong turtle centre.
The return was
co-ordinated and carried out by the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden of Hong
Kong and Cuc Phuong National Park with the support of the National Forest
Protection Department of Viet Nam.
Logistics and technical
support in Viet Nam was provided by the Asian Turtle Program and the Humane
Society International. — VNS