Rare Vietnamese turtles return home from foreign zoos

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A Vietnamese pond turtle, a freshwater turtle species native to Vietnam. Photo courtesy of the Southern Institute of Ecology

Seventy one threatened Vietnamese pond turtles, native to the central region, will be handed over to the Cuc Phuong National Park by two zoos in Germany and the Netherlands this month.

Bui Dang Phong, director of a turtle conservation center in the park, said Tuesday that the animals, also known as Annam leaf turtles, have been successfully bred at the Allwetterzoo Münster in Germany and Rotterdam Zoo.

According to NGO Education for Nature-Vietnam, the Vietnamese pond turtle Mauremys annamensis  is one of three freshwater species native to Vietnam, but its numbers have been rapidly declining in the wild due to illegal hunting and trading and habitat loss.

The turtles, whose habitat is limited to wetlands in Da Nang city and Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Quang Nam, and Quang Ngai Provinces, are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as well as Vietnamese laws.

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The 178-member CITES puts a ban on their commercial trade, while Vietnamese law limits their exploitation, use, and trade.

Vu Ngoc Long, director of the Southern Institute of Ecology (SIE), said last month that a US$30,000-rescue center would be built in Quang Ngai Province's Binh Khuong and Binh Minh Communes by May 2014 to breed the turtles and release them into the wild.

Long said SIE also plans to set up a turtle conservation area in natural wetlands and other water bodies starting in June 2014 using foreign funding.

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