English name: Southeast Asian Box Turtle (aka “Malayan Box Turtle”)
Scientific name: Cuora amboinensis
Thai name: Ging-ga-noi Tao Hub or Tao Gnub
Description: Shell is up to 25 cm long. Weighs up to 1.6 kgs. An average-sized turtle with a high shell. Head is black above and yellow below, with straight yellow lines on black section. Shell is brown to black. Bottom of shell is yellowish with large dark markings. The shell has a hinge on the bottom that allows the turtle to pull in its head and close its shell partway when threatened. A single keel can be seen going up the middle of the shell.
Similar Species: Malayan Snail-eating Turtle has a lower shell with three distinct keels, a line on its head that curves around the eye rather than going straight through it, and often has white lines on the head rather than yellow.
Black Marsh Turtle has a lower shell and lacks the light stripes on the head.
Red-eared Slider has a flatter shell and a characteristic red mark behind its eye.
Habitat: Found in rivers, lakes, marshes, swamps, irrigated plantations, canals, and rice paddies. In Bangkok can be found in park canals and decorative ponds. Prefers slow-moving or still water with a soft bottom. Is equally comfortable on land and in the water, and can sometimes be found a distance the from water source.
Contribution to the ecosystem: Helps control water plants, mollusks, worms, and insects. Also eat fruit and fungi, in some cases helping to spread the seeds of fruit trees. Their young and eggs provide food for water monitors and some wading birds.
Danger to humans: This turtle is not dangerous to humans in any way.
Conservation status and threats: The Southeast Asian Box Turtle is widespread and was once very common, but now faces heavy pressure due to hunting and collection. It is currently the most-exploited hard-shelled turtle in Asia, being taken for food, for Chinese medicine, and for the pet trade. Individual exporters have been found to export several hundred thousand turtles in a single year. Because of its slow growth (it takes 5 to 9 years to mature), it has now become endangered or extinct in many parts of its range. It is listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List and is listed in Appendix II on CITES. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia has an extensive report on the status and exploitation of Southeast Asian Box Turtles in Malaysia. TRAFFIC has also found that over two million of these turtles are being exported from Indonesia every year, leading to a massive reduction in population in many areas.
Accoring to the IUCN, the Southeast Asian Box Turtle is now an endangered species in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. It is listed as Vulnerable (the level just above endangered) in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India.
Interesting facts: “Box Turtles” get their name from their unique defense mechanism. Unlike other water turtles, box turtles have a hinge on the bottom of their shell that allows both ends of the shell to move up. When the Southeast Asian Box Turtle is frightened, it can pull in its head and legs and then bend its lower shell until it almost touches the upper shell. This gives the turtle’s vulnerable soft spots a greater deal of protection than the typical turtle shell provides. The Southeast Asian Box Turtle is the only turtle in Thailand with this ability. Unfortunately, while protecting it from traditional carnivorous predators, it does nothing to protect it from human collectors.
Asian Turtle Conservation Network: Cuora amboinensis
Ecology Asia: Malayan Box Terrapin
Box turtles face knockout as Indonesian traders export 100 times quota
IUCN Red List: Cuora amboinensis
Science in CITES: The biology and ecology of the Southeast Asian Box Turtle Cuora amboinensis and its uses and trade in Malaysia
Wikipedia: Amboina Box Turtle
Thailand Office of Environmental Planning and Policy: A Checklist of Amphibians and Reptiles in Thailand
A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand
A Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia
The Turtles of Thailand