July 21, 2005

Rare Cambodian turtle saved from soup by microchip

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - An extremely rare Cambodian "royal"
turtle has been rescued from a Chinese soup pot by a microchip
implanted in its leg, officials said Thursday.

The interception of the animal in Vietnam on its way to
China was hailed by international conservation experts as a
major success in the war against smugglers of rare wildlife in
Asia, whose prey often end up on Chinese menus or in
traditional medicine.

"A very important turtle has returned home," Doug Hendrie,
the Asian turtle coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation
Society, said in a statement.

The rescue was "a clear and very positive example" of
international cooperation, he said of a turtle which also
inhabits mangrove forests in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and

The 33-lb (15 kg) turtle, one of fewer than 10 known to
live in Cambodia, was discovered by inspectors in a crate of
confiscated wildlife in Vietnam.

"Without the microchip which we implanted in its right leg,
the turtle would have ended up on a Chinese menu," said Heng
Sovannara of the Cambodian fishery department's endangered
species office funded by the New York-based WCS.

The turtle, which Heng Sovannara said was more than 35
years old, was originally released in the southwestern
Cambodian district of Sre Ambel two years ago.

Cambodian fishermen caught it there in June, then smuggled
it into Vietnam, where inspectors using devices for monitoring
microchips discovered it, Heng Sovannara said.

The male turtle was now back in Cambodia and being nursed
back to health before a decision was made about whether it
could be released back into the Sre Ambel River.

"This turtle will be released into wild only if it is
properly cured," Heng Sovannara said.

"In the old days, Cambodians dared not eat this turtle
because it belongs to the royal family. When they found its
eggs they always offered it to the King for food. That is why
we call it the royal turtle," he said.