Turtles more likely to become extinct than other “Red Book” animals hinh anh 1Turtles are placed at the top of endangered animals in Vietnam (Photo: HC/Vietnam Plus) 

Among the hundreds of “Red Book wild animals” illegally sold nationwide, the Mekong snail-eating and yellow-headed temple turtles are frequently demanded by tourists.

In the Mekong Delta, turtles are sold as pet or food. Meanwhile, in the north, they are the material for the production of turtle jelly, a glue-like residue produced by long boiling of turtle shells and concentrated by evaporation. The purchase has even formed an organised ring that could put the animal to the verge of extinction.

“I make turtle jelly but call it horse bone glue, who will arrest me then?”

Pretending as a customer looking for turtle jelly maker, in early December 2019, I made contact with a man named D in Thai Nguyen province’s Phu Luong district. D is popular in the north for his lifetime experience of making wildlife animal jelly. During our phone call, D taught me how to select turtles and prepare necessary ingredients.

“To make a standard turtle jelly pot, we need cardamom, a hawk, and a little black opium. We only need the turtle’s shell and four legs. The prices for cooking the jelly in Hanoi and in Thai Nguyen are the same. I need 15 million VND (644.7 USD),” D went on. “You must find mountain turtles whose blood can be served with alcohol and inner parts are edible.”

To enhance trust, D suggested me to arrange a face-to-face meeting. According to the man, each pot cooks some 20 kg of ingredients, equivalent to about 30 – 40 turtles. Recently, D often made jelly using keeled box and softshell turtles.

“Mountain turtles are rare and hunting them is forbidden. What if we were busted by competent agencies?” I asked. D laugh and said: “No problem. We prepare them and then cook in big pot like cooking chung cake (square glutinous rice cake). Nobody cares. The lunar New Year approaches, I cook all the time. I have done it for nearly ten years, cooking dozens of pots every year and killing about a thousand of turtles. If someone detected, I told them I was cooking horse bone glue, who would arrest me then?”

Turtles more likely to become extinct than other “Red Book” animals hinh anh 2Turtle jelly making is popular in the north, particularly in Bac Kan province (Photo: HC/Vietnam Plus)

Arriving in Bac Kan where D worked frequently serving his customers, I went to Cho Ra township in Ba Be district and was introduced about health benefits of the jelly by its local sellers. The jelly is said to make you strong, beautify your skin, give you good sleep, and even cure your cancer.

My investigation found that jelly in Cho Ra was mostly made from keeled box and mountain turtles. Hunters use hunting dogs to chase turtles at the local Ba Be national park and the Tat Ke – Ban Bung natural reserve in Tuyen Quang province.

Turtles come at the top among endangered animals in Vietnam

In an interview with the Vietnam News Agency, Bui Thi Ha, Deputy Director of the Education for Nature – Vietnam (ENV), said from the images I have taken, she could figure out that the jelly-making business mostly use keeled box turtles, which are categorised in Group IIB (Restricting exploitation and use for commercial purposes) by the Government’s Decree 35/2019/ND-CP.

Turtles more likely to become extinct than other “Red Book” animals hinh anh 3Finished turtle jelly products available for sale at some restaurants in Bac Kan (Photo: HC/Vietnam Plus).

According to Ha, such violations may be subject to criminal handling or fines based on the value of the items confiscated. Items worth over 150 million VND means up to 12 years’ imprisonment, while those worth under the level can lead to a fine of up to 300 million VND.

According to a report from the US’s Duke University, turtles are among the top animals being at the verge of extinction. Meanwhile, data from the Wildlife Conservation Society show that most turtles in Vietnam are transported to China, the world biggest turtle market.

In Vietnam, 8,118 out of the 26,221 animal parts confiscated between 2013 and 2017 were of turtles; and there were 150 cases related to the species among the 1,504 wildlife cases detected during the period.

The local law does not allow the hunt and trade of rare and endangered species, however, it only applies to species caught in the wild but not to those commercially farmed. As a result, people might catch wild animals and the state that these animals are bred for commercial purposes.

Turtles more likely to become extinct than other “Red Book” animals hinh anh 4Turtles are sold across markets in the Mekong Delta region (Photo: HV/Vietnam Plus)

Overlaps between laws and decrees in the country also cause competent agencies to be inactive and criminals to avoid being caught easier.

In its report, Duke University suggested a number of measures for the matter, raising awareness of suppliers and buyers about the illegality of turtle trade; boosting related capacity of local officials and courts; and studying a sustainable farming model./.