NGO raids turtle show dedicated to Thang Long anniversary

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Conservationists discover endangered species and wildlife parts steeping in rice wine at a Hanoi "eco-farm"

Wildlife parts steeped in rice wine were discovered at the Dam Bong Eco-Farm, in Hanoi, following an inspection of an exhibit dedicated to the celebration of Hanoi's 1,000th anniversary

(Conservationists raided a turtle exhibition at an "eco-farm" in Hanoi only to discover wildlife parts steeping in rice wine on Sunday (September 26).

"[We determined that] most of the turtles we saw were collected from the wild based on their age and the presence of wear on their shells typical of wild turtles," said Douglas Hendrie, an international turtle expert and advisor to Education for Nature - Vietnam (ENV), the country's first nongovernmental organization (NGO) to focus on conserving nature and the environment.

The show, titled "Exhibition of 1,000 rare turtles on the occasion of 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long (currently Hanoi)," was organized by the KAT Group at the Dam Bong Eco-Farm. The turtles being displayed included critically endangered species of questionable origin, according to Hendrie.

No one at the KAT group's Hanoi office could be reached for comment before press time. The group's website describes it as holding a wide range of business interests - everything from toothpick manufacturing to small-scale environmentally friendly farms.

ENV sent experts to the Dam Bong Eco Farm on the opening day of the exhibition to evaluate the animals on display. The organization said this was their first chance to approach one of the group's breeding facilities.

In a press release issued on Thursday, the conservation NGO said the farm was exhibiting 16 local turtle species despite the fact that it only has official permission to keep three species: the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta), the elongated tortoise (Indotestudo elongate) and the giant Asian pond turtle (Heosemys grandis).

An impressed tortoise (Manouria Impressa) displayed at the Dam Bong Eco-Farm

All the exhibited turtle species are protected under Vietnamese law, the organization said.

The ENV inspection team also observed approximately 300 jars of wildlife wine. A small portion of these contained protected species including monitor lizards, cobras, turtles, and pangolins.

One of the jars even contained the paw of a bear - a highly endangered, heavily farmed species under Vietnamese law.

"While permitting the public to see and appreciate turtles is a worthy undertaking, the collection of turtles we saw at Dam Bong is a sad reminder of what is happening all over this country," Hendrie said.

"The exploitation of turtles to meet the demand for luxury foods and medicines in China has all but wiped out wild populations of many species in Vietnam," he added.

Nguyen Phuong Dung, ENV co-director, said they would seek for more information about KAT Group activities to determine the legality of all species they own.

"If we are going to stop the illegal trade of wildlife, we need to get serious about it, and crack down on businesses and establishments that violate the law," she said, adding that the organization planned to meet KAT CEO Nguyen Ngoc Khoi after October 10, when the 1,000th anniversary of the capital ended.

Dung said the Group's Eco-Farm interests raise larger questions about wildlife farming in Vietnam.

"Wildlife farms in Vietnam are poorly regulated and monitored," Hendrie said.

"Enforcement agencies are not equipped or trained to enforce regulations and thus farmers use licenses to hide illegal trade activities, further undermining the efforts to protect wildlife."

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