Rare aquatic turtles still found on the Xe Kong River in Lao PDR

Posted on June, 10 2007

A rare species of soft-shelled turtle recently rediscovered in Cambodia is still well known to local people living in Lao PDR’s Xe Kong River Basin.
A rare species of soft-shelled turtle recently rediscovered in Cambodia is still well known to local people living in Lao PDR’s Xe Kong river basin.  

Earlier in 2007, specimens of the Cantor’s giant soft shell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) were found during WWF surveys on the Mekong River in northern Cambodia and attracted global media attention. Official sightings of this rare aquatic turtle had not been documented in Cambodia since 2003. Villagers along the Xe Kong River in the Attapeu and Xe Kong Provinces of Lao PDR, however, were unaware of the rare status of the turtle because it is still frequently observed throughout this basin.

Based on the WWF press release of the discovery in Cambodia, the WWF Aquatic Resources Management to Improve Rural Livelihoods in the Xe Kong Basin Project (ARL Xe Kong Basin Project) began using photos of the Cantor’s giant soft shell turtle and another soft-shelled species, the Asiatic soft shell turtle (Amyda cartilaginea), which is thought to be more common, in discussions with local fishermen throughout the basin.  

The results of these discussions were surprising and very encouraging. It was found that the Cantor’s giant soft shell turtle is well known throughout the basin, and local communities consider it “almost as common” as the Asiatic soft shell turtle. The WWF project team discussed specific sightings with local fishermen, and photographed a recently captured specimen. Local fishermen stated that both species are sometimes inadvertently captured on long-line hooks targeting fish.

Most turtle species in Lao PDR are protected under national law, which closely regulates the hunting of these species. Despite this, both species of soft-shelled turtle, as well as most hard-shelled turtles, are highly threatened by local and international trade, and there is a strong market demand for turtles caught by local fishermen.

The ARL Xe Kong Basin Project plans to continue to pursue issues related to soft-shelled turtles, with local communities and management agencies. This will include awareness raising among local communities about the unique and fragile nature of these species, as well as the potential for community efforts to identify and protect important soft-shelled turtle habitats. The project is currently working with 30 communities to manage and protect important aquatic habitat across the Xe Kong River Basin. WWF Greater Mekong’s Lao country programme is also working with local authorities to clarify institutional responsibility for enforcing regulations related to aquatic resource management, and supporting the Department of Livestock and Fisheries in the development of a legal framework for fisheries and aquatic resources management.

For more information please contact:
Eric Meusch, ARL Xekong Basin Project Advisor
An Asian giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) caught by a fisherman in Lao PDR’s Attapeu Province.