On the evening of April 4th, 2023, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW), in collaboration with Pu Mat National Park, received 59 critically endangered big-headed turtles. These animals were confiscated and seized by the Environmental Police Department in Nghe An province for illegal transportation in Dien Chau district.
Initial reports suggest that the turtles were purchased from multiple sources and kept in a house. The police arrested and confiscated 34 big-headed turtles during transportation, and later discovered an additional 25 live turtles, some dead ones, and three Sunda pangolins whose scales and internal organs had been removed, while searching the suspect’s house.
All of the turtles have been transferred to the rescue center at Pu Mat National Park for rehabilitation. They are in a weak condition, with many of them suffering from injuries. However, they are being actively cared for at the rescue center.
In December 2022, SVW and Pu Mat National Park received 75 big-headed turtles from the Nghe An provincial police. Unfortunately, some of the turtles died due to injuries sustained during the smuggling transportation process. Currently, the total number of big-headed turtles being cared for and rehabilitated by SVW has increased to 127.
According to Dang Thanh Tuan, SVW’s animal keeper at the Pu Mat National Park rescue center, the caring and rehabilitating big-headed turtles requires careful attention and manpower. They have a fierce nature and are prone to attacking one another, so each individual needs to be housed separately. They are fed every two day with a diet of fish, earthworms, crabs, and their food intake should be 3-5% of their body weight. On average, 127 individual turtles eat approximately 3-4kg of small fish per feeding. Additionally, the turtles require basking in sunlight and their shells and enclosures must be cleaned regularly to prevent skin ulcers and fungal infections. The temperature in the turtle’s enclosure should be kept stable between 22-27 degrees Celsius.
After genetic and disease sampling and analysis to determine their origin, it is expected that these turtles will be released back into their natural habitat in the future.
The big-headed turtle, also known as Platysternon megacephalum, is a species of turtle that is found in streams at an altitude above 600m above sea level in evergreen forests from the North to the Central and Central Highlands regions of Vietnam. This turtle species is listed as critically endangered in the IUCN red book due to overexploitation and excessive trading, and without intervention, it is likely to become extinct in the near future. Additionally, this is the only turtle species in the Platysternidae family, and its extinction would result in the entire family becoming extinct. The big-headed turtle is strictly protected under Vietnamese law and is listed in the IB group of strictly protected species under Decree 06/2019/NĐ-CP, and in the list of endangered and rare wildlife species that need to be protected under Decree 64/2019/NĐ-CP of the Government. Violations related to the big-headed turtle can result in severe imprisonment penalties.