The little Vietnamese Leaf Turtle (Geoemyda spengleri), also known as the Black-breasted Leaf Turtle, is easily recognized by its brown to orange carapace and its striking, owl-like eyes. This turtle is one of the two species that make up the genus Geoemyda. Together these two small turtle species diverged from all other living organisms around 40 million years ago. This is also around the same time our ancestors diverged from the ancestors of modern tamarins, baboons and capuchin monkeys (1).
Vietnamese Leaf Turtles inhabit mountainous, deciduous forests of northern Vietnam and China, and they are found on sloped terrain amongst the leaf litter, often near streams.
Besides the usual threats most turtles face like the destruction of habitat and the conversion of forests to farmland, the Vietnamese Leaf Turtle is in danger of extinction due to unsustainable collection from the wild for the food, traditional medicine, and the illicit pet trade industries. The Turtle Conservancy regularly receives confiscations of wild turtles destined for the pet trade from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and this species is a regular casualty.
Even though conservation organizations and governments have made efforts to put in place protections for the Vietnamese Leaf Turtle, and most Asian turtle species, the man-made pressures bearing down on this delicate little turtle portend a bleak future in the wild.
There are multiple ways you can help! Do not buy pet turtles from the wildlife trade! Your first step to obtaining a pet turtle should be through adoption. If you must purchase a turtle, please do so from a qualified breeder that does not participate in the legal/illegal trade of wild-caught animals.
1. The Zoological Society of London http://www.edgeofexistence.org/species/black-breasted-hill-turtle/