Microchip Saves Rare Turtle

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Microchip Saves Rare Turtle from Soup Pot

It is very lucky that thanks to the microchip implanted in its right leg, the turtle has been saved.
Picture(s): AP Photo/Andy Eames |

A Lucky Turtle
Wildlife Conservation Society Field Veterinarian Martin Gilbert shows the lucky turtle at his house in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Wednesday, July 20, 2005. The rare terrapin, called a batagur, was likely headed for a Chinese soup pot before keen-eyed wildlife officers noticed a tiny microchip implanted in its leg.

July 21, 2005 — An endangered “royal” turtle, believed to be one of 10 left in Cambodia, has narrowly escaped a trip to a Chinese soup pot thanks to a tiny microchip implanted in its leg, officials said on Thursday.

Wildlife inspectors discovered the turtle, estimated to be 35 years old, on May 22 inside a crate of confiscated wildlife in Vietnam which smugglers were planning to send to China, Heng Souvannara of the Cambodian fishery department’s endangered species office, told AFP.

The inspectors used a special reading device to detect the microchip during a raid on a smuggler’s house, said Heng Souvannara, whose office is funded by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

“This royal turtle is very lucky,” he said. “It’s a one-in-1,000 chance that this turtle could return to Cambodia.

“It is very lucky that thanks to the microchip implanted in its right leg, the turtle has been saved. If there was no microchip, the turtle would have been killed to be Chinese soup,” he said.

The 15-kilogram (33-pound) male mangrove terrapin, which was released two years ago into Cambodia’s southwestern Sre Ambel River, was handed over to Cambodia by Vietnamese authorities in a ceremony last week.

“This is a clear and very positive example of how authorities can cooperate across international borders to resolve specific trans-border trade cases,” Doug Hendrie, the conservation society’s Asian turtle coordinator, said in a statement.

“In this case, a very important turtle has returned home,” he said.

In the past the turtle was considered the exclusive property of Cambodia’s royal family.

“In the past, only the king’s family could eat the turtle,” Heng Souvannara said. “People considered such turtles belonged to the king so no one dared eat them.”

The species is native to coastal river systems and mangrove forests from India through Bangladesh and Myanmar, south along both coasts of peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra in Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia.

Heng Souvannara said the turtle will be returned to the Sre Ambel River once conservationists are sure it is in good health.


Name: Batagur, aka Royal Turtle, aka Mangrove Terrapin (Batagur baska)
Primary Classification: Testudines (Turtles and Tortoises)
Location: Southern Asia
Habitat: Coastal river systems and mangrove forests
Diet: Crustaceans, mollusks, fish, leaves, fruits and stems
Size: Up to 3 ft in length 70 lbs in weight.
Description: Muddy brown, heavy, smooth carapace; gray skin; small, yellow eyes; both sexes turn black during the mating season
Cool Facts: It was once protected by royal decree, and only Cambodia’s royal family was allowed to eat the turtle and its eggs.
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
Major Threat(s): Poaching
What Can I Do?: Visit the Asian Turtle Information Network for information on how you can help.


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