Image: Vietnamese Pond turtle
Tim Mccormack  /  AP
A Vietnamese Pond turtle, which is found only in lowland areas of Vietnam, is seen after it was caught in November 2006 in Quang Nam province, Vietnam.
updated 12/8/2006 7:51:48 PM ET 2006-12-09T00:51:48

Researchers in Vietnam announced Friday they have caught one of the world's most endangered turtles in the wild, a development which could bolster efforts to protect the species from hunters and collectors.

The Vietnamese Pond turtle — which is found only in lowland areas of Vietnam — was caught in late November in Quang Nam province, according to the Asian Turtle Program. It was the first time researchers have caught one in the wild in 65 years, it said, though the turtles are occasionally found in Asian markets and pet shops.

"There was definitely a buzz there. It was very exciting," said Tim McCormack of the Asian Turtle Program in Hanoi, who along with Nguyen Xuan Thuan trapped the turtle. "We didn't expect to find it as easily as we did. After three days of setting traps, we found it. That was pretty impressive. I expected it would take months."

The World Conservation Union has classified the turtle known as Mauremys annamensis as "critically endangered" and conservationists say it on a list of the world's top 25 endangered turtle species.

The turtle faces a number of threats to their survival, McCormack said, including farmers who destroy their habitat and traders who sell them to collectors and traditional medicine markets. Blood from the Vietnamese turtle is used as a traditional treatment for heart disease.

But McCormack said the find is the latest sign that the turtle's future may be improving.

Vietnam passed a law this year making it illegal for anyone to collect or sell the turtles — though enforcement remains weak. The Asian Turtle Program also is planning to launch a program in Quang Nam province that would include education and an awareness campaign aimed at protecting turtles, and eventually establishing a program to release turtles raised at the Cuc Phuong Turtle Conservation Center into the wild.

"We will have someone working in the area to dissuade local residents from collecting any more of these turtles and trying to improve conservation of the species in the surrounding villages," McCormack said. "You really need local involvement in any conservation effort for it to work."

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