Rare Turtle Recuperates After River Rescue

Slowly propelling itself around an 850-liter tank filled with salt water in central Phnom Penh, a rare “royal” turtle rescued from a crate of smuggled reptiles in June is still on the mend from its ordeal in the illegal wildlife trade.

The health of the critically en­danger­­ed turtle, which was snatch­­­ed from the Sre Ambel River system and bound for China’s gour­met food market via Vietnam, is being closely monitored by the Cambodian fishery department and the Wildlife Con­servation So­ciety, which hopes to return it to the wild soon.

“He was in the [illegal wildlife] trade for quite a while, so we’re really happy that he’s recovering,” said society conservationist Kate Mc­Mahon of the 15-kg adult male turtle which has been affectionately dubbed “Rupert” by some staffers.

“He had many lesions on his legs that have been healing quite well.”

But because turtles are very susceptible to catching diseases from other reptiles, Rohan Hollo­way, a research associate working with the Wildlife Conser­vation Society, said they won’t release the rare turtle, which is between 20 and 30 years old, until they are “100 percent confident” that it could survive.

Holloway said that blood test results due in another week will indicate whether the royal turtle, from a species that was thought to have been be extinct in Cam­bo­dia for more than a century until it was rediscovered nesting along a Sre Ambel river bank in 2001, is ready for its life back in nature.

Conservationists said that the turtle was rescued from its fate as a pricey Chinese soup when Viet­namese forestry inspectors notic­ed its unique appearance and alert­ed a specialist with the Wild­life Con­servation Society.

After running a microchip scanner over the endangered reptile, officials found beneath its skin an electronic chip that had been im­plant­ed as part of a conservation effort two years earlier and that identified its home as being the Sre Ambel River.

In Cambodia, the royal turtle was once considered the property of the royal family, who reportedly feasted on the turtles’ eggs.


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