Hong Kong's native turtle, the rare gems in our streams
Located in the sub-tropics, Hong Kong is not short of rainfall. Thanks to its diverse and mountainous terrain, the numerous streams are nursing grounds for freshwater biodiversity. One can find a wide variety of creatures in our local streams, such as fish, crustaceans, and benthic life, all of which are part of a diverse freshwater ecosystem that includes a particular animal which receives little attention, the freshwater turtle. Most people in Hong Kong know what a turtle looks like. The Red-eared Slider, for example, is commonly kept as a pet or used in religious rites, while the Golden Coin Turtle is sadly still used in traditional medicine. As a result, many turtle species across the region are under threat, yet they receive far less attention than other animals.
According to the scientific literature, Hong Kong has five native freshwater turtle species: the Chinese Softshell Turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis), Reeves’ Turtle (Mauremys reevesii), the Big-headed Turtle (Platysternon megacephalum), Beale’s-eyed Turtle (Sacalia bealei), and the Chinese Three-lined Box Turtle (Cuora trifasciata). Some herpetologists believe that the Wattle-necked Softshell Turtle (Palea steindachneri) should also be included. Each species prefers habitats of different altitudes; for example, the Big-headed Turtle and Wattle-necked Softshell Turtle prefer streams at higher altitudes, while others prefer habitats in the middle to lower range.
In traditional Chinese culture, turtles represent blissful longevity, which is perhaps why they are still consumed as a health boosting delicacy. There have even been claims that the plastrons of certain species can cure terminal diseases such as cancer. As such, a staggering number of turtles have being harvested for human consumption in recent decades and the long-term uncontrolled trade of them has push many Asian species to the brink of extinction. Ecologists have called it the Asian Turtle Crisis. According to a survey, all 10 species of turtle being traded are protected by law, however, demand is still great, regardless of the regulations. This shows that in order to be effective, regulations must be combined with public education at the consumer level.
Hong Kong accounts for 40% of the global trade in turtles, including local sales and re-export. The poaching of freshwater turtles is rampant across the region and Hong Kong is no exception. Take the Beale’s-eyed Turtle for example, wild specimens are collected for the pet trade due to its unique colouration. Local experts estimate that there are less than 100 individuals left in the wild, despite a local ordinance prohibiting the hunting and poaching of wildlife. Scores of traps can be found throughout Hong Kong’s countryside and, tragically, we just do not know how many wild turtles have been lost to them.
In order to raise awareness about turtle conservation, OPCF has received a generous grant from the Environmental and Conservation Fund to run a two-year education programme. The programme will recruit 100 secondary school students, and through activities such as presentations, excursions, and scientific research, they will be able to become ambassadors who can spread the message of species conservation in their communities and schools. OPCF will also collaborate with Ocean Park and the Hong Kong Society of Herpetology Foundation to organise an exhibition introducing the public to the importance of freshwater turtle conservation. Through these and numerous other efforts, we hope that future generations will continue to see these extraordinary creatures in the wild.
Protect Endangered Animals Colouring and Drawing Competition 2022
OPCFHK aims to protect local and Asian wildlife through scientific research and community education. Despite the challenges brought by COVID-19 to our daily lives, OPCFHK continues to extend our conservation effort to safeguard biodiversity.
Asia Kids Talent organizes “Protect Endangered Animals Colouring and Drawing Competition” aiming to encourage the general public to support Asian wildlife conservation by donating to OPCFHK. Not only does it allow children to create art pieces about endangered species with their creativity and imagination, parents can also take the opportunity to get to know the importance of biodiversity and conservation.
We hope to have your participation in this meaningful competition. Your support will be great help to our wildlife conservation work. Please spread the message and invite more people to join!
Registration deadline: 15 March 2022
Submission deadline: 22 March 2022
Result announcement: 29 March 2022
EVERY DOLLAR COUNTS
We need your help to sustain our efforts to conserve wildlife. Join us as our member of the Friends of the Foundation (download application form) to help us fund more conservation projects and save more species. Together we make a difference!