Species Spotlight: Bourret's Box Turtle

Infographic: Jordan Gray, turtle Photo: Chris Leone

Bourret's Box Turtle (Cuora bourreti)

Countries of Origin: Laos, Vietnam

IUCN Status: Critically Endangered

Habitat: Mountainous evergreen forests

Size:  < 20 cm (~8 in.)

Fast Facts:

- Described to science in 1994 by Fritz Jürgen Obst and Michael Reimann.

- Named in honor of René Léon Bourret (1884-1957), a French zoologist and herpetologist.

- Males and females are generally of the same appearance and size.

  • Males may exhibit a slightly concave plastron, larger claws and often a longer, thicker tail than females.

- One of the more terrestrial members of the genus Cuora, Bourret's Box Turtle occurs in mid to high-elevation, moist, closed-canopy, evergreen forests.

The pattern and coloration allows Bourret's Box Turtles to blend in amongst fallen leaf litter, and varies widely between individual turtles. Photo: Clint Doak

- Pattern and coloration allows the species to blend in amongst fallen leaf litter on the forest floor.

- Pattern and coloration can vary widely between individual turtles.

- Plastron is typically cream-colored with black blotches.

- Omnivorous; opportunistically feeds on a wide variety of invertebrates, small vertebrates, vegetation, fruits, and fungi.

- Though little is known of the species' wild habits, activities, including foraging and breeding, are often associated with rainfall.

- Females typically lay one to two clutches of 1-3 large eggs per year.

- Regarded until 2004 as a subspecies of the Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora galbinifrons).

The Bourret's Box Turtle was elevated to species status in 2004 after previously being considered a subspecies of Indochinese Box Turtle. Photo: Cris Hagen

- Naturally hybridizes in the wild at the northern extent of their range with Indochinese Box Turtle, and throughout their range with Keeled Box Turtle (Cuora mouhotii).

  • Natural hybrids between Bourret's Box Turtle and Indochinese Box Turtle with Keeled Box Turtles were once thought to be their own species, known formerly as Serrated Box Turtle (Cuora serrata).

Threats: Habitat destruction and poaching for pet, food, and Traditional Chinese Medicine trades

- Habitat destruction, including timber operations, conversion of forest to agricultural and livestock pastureland, and mining pose as a widespread and persistent threat.

- Despite being protected in Laos under Prohibited Category I of the Wildlife and Aquatic Species Law, and Vietnam as a Priority Protected Rare, Precious and Endangered Species, and Appendix I of CITES, Bourret's Box Turtles are still hunted for illegal trade, both in and out of protected areas.

- Formerly considered a common species to find.

- Intensive hunting for the species occurred during the 1990s and early 2000s.

- The wild population is estimated to have been reduced by over 90%.

- Specimens of Bourret's Box Turtle are now considered exceptionally hard to find by both scientists and local hunters.

The TSA's Turtle Survival Center in South Carolina, USA, has hatched 41 Bourret's Box Turtles since 2015. Photo: Cris Hagen

How you can help: Turtle Survival Alliance maintains a breeding assurance colony of Bourret's Box Turtles at our Turtle Survival Center in South Carolina. In 2015 we successfully hatched this species for the first time at the Center. Since then, we have hatched 41 from twelve maternal lines.

You can help us care for the adult, juvenile, and hatchling Bourret's Box Turtles, and ensure continued breeding success in the future by becoming a TSA Member or Donor today!