Enclosure status
IUCN status
Critically Endangered
Scientific name
Platysternon megacephalum
Southern China and northern mainland southeast Asia
Streams in mountain forests

Big-headed turtle facts

  • This turtle’s head is so big it can’t be withdrawn inside its shell. Instead, the top and sides of its head are covered with a large bony ‘roof’ that acts like armour. 
  • These turtles have huge jaw muscles which help them break through the crabs’ tough shells. 
  • These animals were seized from the illegal wildlife trade. They had been important illegally into Canada for the exotic pet trade.  

What do big-headed turtles eat?

Insects, crabs, molluscs and fruit.

Big-headed turtle threats

Illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss. There has been a dramatic increase in the illegal trade of this species with hundreds of individuals being seized annually on the Myanmar / China and Viet Nam / China borders. 

Big-headed turtle EDGE Fellow Ha Hoang, ZSL wildlife conservationist
ZSL EDGE fellow Ha Hoang, who advanced understanding of disease-turtle interactions and other threats to the species and increased awareness of big-headed turtle conservation. 

Big-headed turtle conservation

We work with the Asian Turtle Program in Vietnam. Together we have screened the genetics and assessed the health and released 300 big headed turtles that were seized from the illegal wildlife trade back into protected areas in northern Vietnam. We have also gained new insights into the trade of this species around two protected areas in Vietnam. 

More facts about reptiles

  • Anam leaf turtle at London Zoo
    Mauremys annamensis

    Annam leaf turtle

    The anam leaf turtle is one of the most endangered reptiles on earth, there are only around 50 remaining individuals in the wild. Little is known about them, but we are working to better understand the species.

  • King cobra
    Ophiophagus hannah

    King cobra

    These massive snakes grow 18 feet long and primarily eat other snakes.

  • Komodo dragon at London Zoo
    Varanus komodoensis

    Komodo dragon

    The largest and heaviest reptile in the world, which can eat up to 80% of its body weight in just one feeding.

  • Two Galapagos tortoises at London Zoo
    Chelonoidis sp.

    Galapagos tortoise

    With a lifespan of 177 years old, some Galapagos tortoises alive today would have around since before the American civil war. 

  • Philippine Crocodile at London Zoo
    Crocodylus mindorensis

    Philippine crocodile

    There are one only around 120 left in the wild, but we are working to recover Philippine crocodiles at the Zoo and in the field.

  • Blue tree monitor close up
    Varanus macraei

    Blue tree monitor

    Blue tree monitors are known for their amazing puzzle solving intelligence, and are isolated to a small island in Indonesia, which is around the same size as the Isle of Wight.