Seizure of highly threatened turtles highlights ongoing threat of illegal trade
Hanoi, Viet Nam, October 2015—More than 200 freshwater turtles are currently being cared for at Soc Son Rescue Centre and the Turtle Conservation Centre following one of Viet Nam’s biggest ever turtle seizures.
The animals, including around 100 Indochinese Box Turtles Cuora galbinifrons and Bourret’s Box Turtles Cuora bourreti, more than 50 Keeled Box Turtles Cuora mouhotii and over 30 Big-headed Turtles Platysternon megacephalum and a small number of leaf turtles Cyclemys spp. were confiscated by Nam Tu Liem district police in Hanoi last month.
The turtles were seized in two shipments. The first took place on the evening of 21 September after a car was seen behaving suspiciously at My Dinh bus station. A 31-year old women living in Hanoi was found with suitcases containing Indochinese Box Turtles and other species. She said she had bought the animals from a 32-year old woman from Ha Tinh province the previous day. The latter was caught with a second turtle shipment intercepted by the police which also included one King Cobra Ophiophagus hannah.
The major threat to the turtles is illegal trade, fueled by demand for their meat, their parts in traditional medicines and as pets.
“This seizure clearly highlights the insidious threat posed by illegal trade in these rare turtles, which is continuing to push these species closer to the brink of extinction,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.
“The authorities responsible for intercepting this shipment are to be congratulated. TRAFFIC urges the authorities to charge the offenders behind this case and to increase efforts to break down the networks involved in the illegal trade in freshwater turtles in Viet Nam.”
The Indochinese Box Turtle is assessed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, while Keeled Box Turtles and Big-headed Turtles are Endangered. Bourret’s Box Turtle is likely to be assessed as Critically Endangered. It was only recently described and is not protected under current legislation in Viet Nam.
The confiscated turtles were transferred to a rescue centre in Hanoi thanks to assistance from local NGOs, the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of Indo-Myanmar Conservation (IMC) and Four Paws Vietnam, with the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) of Cuc Phuong National Park and Soc Son Rescue Centre working closely as the government agencies responsible for the rescue and placement of animals in Viet Nam.
Some of the animals were later transferred to the TCC, where quarantine facilities and trained staff are equipped to handle large numbers of these sensitive species. The animals are currently being rehabilitated and some will possibly be released back into the wild at a future date.
ATP and TCC are currently seeking emergency support including additional ATP staff and volunteers to maintain the intensive treatments needed over the next few months. Donations are also urgently sought to construct long-term, secure enclosures for the animals once they move out of quarantine.
“We thank all those that have provided assistance to date, it is very positive to see such a quick and co-ordinated response with a number of agencies and organizations working together to give these animals the best chance of surviving their ordeal,” said Tim McCormack of the ATP.
“Although species like the Indochinese Box Turtle now have clear legal protection in Viet Nam, thanks to improvements in wildlife legislation in recent years, it is likely that further confiscations will occur. It is essential that mechanisms are in place to rescue, place, rehabilitate and ultimately release these animals back into their natural habitat.”