HA NOI — Invasive red ear turtles are flourishing in Ha Noi's fabled Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword) Lake, threatening to eradicate native indigenous species, according to environmentalists.
Pham Dinh Quyen, general secretary of the Viet Nam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment, blamed the public for releasing the turtles into the lake for good luck on Tet and the fifteenth day of the lunar month.
"People traditionally release animals on holidays. Unfortunately, these turtles are adaptable and have been thriving in Viet Nam, at the expense of local species in Hoan Kiem Lake," Quyen said.
Professor Ha Dinh Duc, an expert on turtles, said he first noticed the invasive species, which are indigenous to the US, in 1997.
"It's hard to estimate precise numbers but they multiple very quickly and appear to be thriving," he said.
Duc said the turtles are not harmful in a predatory fashion but that they compete with native species for food.
Red-ear turtles, also know as sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) have also been seen in Thien Quang well at Van Mieu (Temple of Literature).
The municipal authority has launched a public-awareness campaign about the threat posed by the species and has urged people to kill them.
Nguyen Minh Tuan, who manages Hoan Kiem Lake, said his staff actively deterred members of the public from releasing turtles into the lake.
"We are not sure whether to advise the public to kill the animals because they might harm native species," Tuan said.
Environmentalists said the authorities should ban the import of the turtles and educate the public about the dangers of releasing them into the environment.
"People must understand that these creatures are as dangerous to native species as yellow snails, pirana tiger fish and momosa, which have also been introduced into this country," he said. — VNS