Unexpected high forest turtle diversity in hill forests in northern Vietnam

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Almost all Asian turtle species are considered threatened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). We investigated the turtle fauna and their distribution in hilly forests in northern Vietnam (TamThanh commune, Quan Son district) during two consecutive periods (12th–23th May, 12th–24th August 2019). These forests are of Subtropical Moist Forest type according to WWF, and dominated by evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. We used a combination of (1) field surveys; (2) hunter interviews; (3) examination of hunter quarry, and (4) monitoring of hunting activity. We performed field surveys in bamboo and hilly secondary forests (500–1350 m), applied 103 hunter interviews, and examined the same number of hunter bags. We found a total of 124 different individuals of as many as 9 turtle species (representing 18% of the currently known total chelonian fauna in the Indo-Burma region). Two species were the most dominant, the Impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa), found mostly as shells in villages, and the Indochinese box turtle (Cuora galbinifrons) sighted inside bamboo forests at different elevations. C. galbinifrons is one of the most critically endangered turtle species in the world. Given that there are still large expanses of unexplored bamboo forests and mixed bamboo—evergreen forest (over 5 million hectares) remaining throughout northern Vietnam, if our results are typical of other similar habitats, it is likely that C. galbinifrons may be more common than currently assessed. We suggest that field surveys should be conducted as soon as possible to confirm whether these turtles are as seriously threatened as presently considered by the IUCN.

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