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Asia Dive News : Rare Cambodian turtle saved from soup by microchip

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

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.

Source: Reuters