The future of Vietnamese turtles at Cuc Phuong NP


Biodiversity crisis has entered  into an acceleration process. It means not only that the main benchmarks of habitat loss, defaunation and deforestation are getting worse. The more the situation becomes critical, the more grows the grey zone in which species struggle to survive, for instance in the rescue centres at the borders of protected areas. This is the case of Turtle Conservation Center at Cuc Phuong NP in Vietnam. Cuc is a spectacular patch of primary forest – or better an island of primary tropical forest – in the district of Ninh Binh. The park is isolated from big investments in conservation and research and looks encapsulated in a sphere out of time. The old compound of tourist facilities (lodges and restaurant) are dated to the seventies. In this atmosphere of remoteness Turtle Conservation Centre speaks up of the current status of Vietnamese tortoise and turtles by showing small, brown and muddy enclosures where rare species seems wait for the end of time. In Vietnam turtle hunters are professional. They scour forests with dogs : their goals is taking over how many turtles they can. In some regions a turtle is worths a month’s salary. And species that up to a few years ago were an occasional delicacy are now on the brink of extinction. According to Education Nature Vietnam (ENV)  of the estimated 25 species of tortoise and freshwater turtles native to Vietnam “16 are listed as critically endangered  or endangered on Red List”. Cuc Phuong’s Center confirms this picture describing how Vietnam is a hot spot for turtle smuggling. The county is a transit for turtles that have been catched and trafficked in Laos and Cambodia. Poachers smuggle them across Vietnam northwards to China. This is the same old bushmeat story: in the last two decades Chinese life standards have dramatically improved. As a result a sensitive interest for sophisticated food has emerged. Furthermore the better diplomatic relations with China have fuelled transfrontier trade between the two countries. And this helps poachers. In just one week a turtle can pass from a forest to a Chinese market. Vietnamese and south Eastern Asia turtles are at the centre of this perfect storm. After 200 millions of years, a sad poster at the Centre says, fresh waters turtles are on the edge. The keepers live within the park not far from here; theirs dogs go around among the green sinks and smell dead leaves. These dogs remind me how our species was succeful in eradicating animals from their habitat. By inventing always more ways of eating. The time capsule of Cuc Phuong sounds incredibly ancient here, where the most of animals I see are yet relics of another age.




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