Vietnam welcomes China collaboration in breeding rare Sword Lake turtles

By Pham Huong   July 23, 2018 | 11:52 pm PT
Vietnam welcomes China collaboration in breeding rare Sword Lake turtles
A photo taken in 2008 of a Hoan Kiem turtle in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of the Asian Turtle Program
Vietnamese officials say collaborating with China to breed the rarest turtle species in the world is a great conservation opportunity.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on Monday informed the Hanoi administration that China has suggested that both countries collaborate in breeding the Rafetus swinhoei, or Hoan Kiem (Sword Lake) turtle, an all but extinct soft-shell turtle species.

The turtle enjoys legendary status in Vietnam.

China had suggested the collaboration at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in May this year.

The agriculture ministry considers this a “great and practical opportunity for breeding and protecting this species,” and called on specialists from both sides to hold detailed discussions first.

The proposal has also been supported by scientists and non-governmental organizations.

Hoang Van Ha with the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) emphasized that Hoan Kiem turtle population is at a critically low point, so breeding was an absolute necessity.

"In order to breed the species, Vietnam first needs to determine the sexes of the turtles in Dong Mo and Xuan Khanh," said Ha.

"If there is a male, then it can be matched with the female one in China."

Rafetus swinhoei is a critically rare species with only four of the members alive at present. Two of these (one male, one female) are at the Suzhou zoo in China. The other two of undetermined sex are in the Dong Mo and Xuan Khanh lakes in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Conservation of this species has become extremely difficult due to uncontrolled seafood exploitation and water pollution.

The species is more commonly known in Vietnam as the Hoan Kiem turtle, named after the lake in the heart of the capital city, where, legend goes, a magical sword was returned to the Golden Turtle God after helping fight Chinese invasion in the 15th century.

It is listed in Appendix II of CITES as an endangered species in Vietnam. It is also on the list of rare and endangered animals requiring urgent conservation efforts under the Vietnamese government decree in 2013.

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