New hopes for the conservation of the world's rarest turtle in Vietnam
thamnguyen99 5-09-2020, 19:21

New hopes for the conservation of the world's rarest turtle in Vietnam
A photo confirming the existence of a second large softshell turtle (in a red circle) in Dong Mo Lake, with the other individual in the corner, on the far right. Photo: Nguyen Van Trong - ATP /IMC.

Nhan Dan Online - Environmentalists have found a trace of another Swinhoe softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), also known as the Hoan Kiem turtle, in Dong Mo Lake, a suburb of the capital Hanoi. This raises hopes of keeping the world's rarest turtle in Vietnam.

"We are excited about the prospect of a second animal in Dong Mo Lake, which could potentially bring the number of known living Swinhoe turtles to four individuals, including three in Vietnam and one in China," the statement read. from the Asian Turtle Conservation Program (ATP) of Indo-Myanmar Conservation (IMC) - the organization spares no effort to protect endangered species in Dong Mo Lake.

The Hoan Kiem turtle is believed to be nearly extinct in the wild. No surviving population was known until the first wild animal was confirmed in Dong Mo Lake on the outskirts of Hanoi in 2007. It took a long time for the existence of a second animal to be confirmed, on May 24 of the same year, in Lake Xuan Khanh.

Fishermen at Dong Mo Lake have long claimed that a second, smaller, but similar species lived in the lake, in addition to the regularly photographed large Swinhoe softshell turtle. The latter is the one who escaped from the lake during a dam failure in 2008 and was immediately rescued and returned to the lake. She weighed 69 kg at that time.

However, in May 2011 ATP /IMC staff, who constantly monitor the lake, saw a softshell turtle that appeared to be smaller than the regularly observed large turtle. Although some photographs have been taken of this individual in recent years, the images are unclear and doubt remains as to whether a single animal was seen or not.

Finally, on August 202020 Nguyen Van Trong, the local ATP /IMC field agent, was able to take a photo of two large softshell turtles emerging simultaneously. Although they only appeared for a few seconds, he managed to capture some amazing footage.

The smaller turtle species cannot be confirmed with these photos, but, with previous observations by staff, its size of 40 to 50 kg indicates that it could be a Rafetus. Photo: Nguyen Van Trong - ATP /IMC

The large individual, the one we know, who weighed 69 kg in 2008 when captured, is in the foreground and could weigh between 100 and 130 kg today. The second animal sits slightly behind, and although it is not clear enough to see the markings on its head, it also appears to be a large animal weighing between 40 and 50 kg.

“In fact, few other species reach this size in Vietnam. This gives us hope that at least two, and possibly more, of these endangered Swinhoe softshell turtles still survive in Dong Mo Lake, although more work is needed to confirm the identity of this news. turtle, ”said the ATP /IMC statement.

ATP /IMC staff have worked tirelessly for 13 years in Dong Mo to record the sightings and behavior of the large individual while working with local communities to promote its conservation. Photo: Nguyen Tai Thang - ATP /IMC

Along with a number of other sites already identified by ATP /IMC in Vietnam, the new findings raise hopes that additional Swinhoe softshells may be discovered. This raises hope for the future conservation of this species of turtle in Vietnam, which is the rarest in the world. ATP hopes these new photos will serve to boost monitoring efforts in Dong Mo and bring more public attention to this species.

Living in wetlands, streams, and large rivers in northern Vietnam, southern China, and possibly Laos, the Swinhoe giant softshell turtle can grow up to 150kg and over. It was heavily hunted for its flesh from 1970 to 1990 and is believed to be nearly extinct in the wild.

Only three individuals have been identified, including two in Vietnam (in the Xuan Khanh and Dong Mo lakes) and one in China.

Nguyen Van Trong grew up on the lake and was a fisherman before picking up a camera and becoming a key part of the field staff protecting this turtle that has become the world's rarest turtle. Photo: Nguyen Tai Thang - ATP /IMC

In January 2016 the only remaining turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake in central Hanoi, known as Cu Rua (great-grandfather turtle) by Hanoians, was declared dead of old age. It is believed that the individual lived 200 years.

The two Dong Mo turtles may be the only hope for the conservation of this species in the world. Therefore, this lake has always been closely monitored by authorities and conservation organizations for several years.

ATP /IMC has worked with local authorities and several other conservation organizations around the world to implement a conservation action plan for the species since 2003.