English name: Yellow-headed Temple Turtle
Scientific name: Hieremys annandalii
Thai name: Tao Bung Hua Leong or Tao Wat
Description: Shell is up to 51cm long. One of the largest freshwater turtles in southeast Asia, sometimes weighing up to 12 kilograms. Young juveniles has a light keel going down the center of their shells, but the shells of adults are flattened on top. Shell coloration is dark grey to black above and yellow to pale orange below with black blotches. Head is large and gray to black with yellow speckling and yellow jaws.
Similar Species: Giant Asian Pond Turtle has orangish markings on the head instead of yellow and maintains the ridge on the center of its shell into adulthood.
Habitat: Found in swamps, ponds, canals, and slow-moving rivers. Will sometimes come on land to eat vegetation and fruit.
Contribution to the ecosystem: Helps control aquatic vegetation. Also eats fruit and vegetation on land. Juvenile Yellow-headed Temple Turtles provide food for water monitors and some wading birds.
Danger to humans: Is not dangerous to humans.
Conservation status and threats: The Yellow-headed Temple Turtle is an endangered species. It is captured and traded for meat, Chinese medicine, and merit release. It also faces habitat loss. The Yellow-headed Temple Turtle is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List and is on CITES Appendix II.
Interesting facts: Yellow-headed Temple Turtles are much more common in Bangkok’s parks and ponds than they are in their native environment. These turtles’ large size makes them very susceptible to capture and exploitation by the illegal wildlife trade. When turtles like this are taken out of their native environment and sold into the pet trade or released back into temple ponds for “merit release”, it disrupts their wild ecosystem and takes away from the beauty of Thailand’s wild places. Please do what you can to protect Thailand’s wildlife by refusing to buy or sell our native turtles.
ARKive: Yellow-headed Temple Turtle
IUCN Red List: Heosemys annandalii
Buddhist Merit-making Turtle Release Checklist
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