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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Giant, bone-crushing turtle 'discovered' in Kratie

Giant, bone-crushing turtle 'discovered' in Kratie

Giant, bone-crushing turtle 'discovered' in Kratie

giant.jpg
giant.jpg

Wildlife experts near Kratie have found super-sized, soft-shelled turtles

previously believed vanished from Cambodia.

Baby Cantor's, plentiful and well-known to locals, are an important "discovery" for wildlife biologists.

The discovery of a family, or

bale, of Cantor's giant soft-shelled turtles has raised new hopes for the future

of the critically endangered species last spotted by scientist in Cambodia in

2003.

Biologists on May 16 located an 11-kilogram female, her breeding

grounds and unhatched eggs and hatchlings.

"This site is the most

important site in the world for the conservation of this turtle," said David

Emmett of Conservation International. "If we can protect this site we can

protect the future of this species."

Until this week's discovery by a

biologist working for the government and World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), the

Cantor's was believed to exist only in very small numbers in Laos, and many

feared the animal's extinction was imminent.

The survey of the area began

in November 2006 and is the first detailed biological survey in the region,

which remained off limits due to KR activity until 1998, according to Mark

Bezuijen of WWF who led the survey team.

"Our survey work to date has

documented some of the highest freshwater biodiversity values in the entire

Lower Mekong Basin," Bezuijen said. "We discovered an entirely new plant

species, Amorphophallus Sp, along with surviving populations of such threatened

species as terns, fish eagles, green peafowl, otters and silvered leaf monkeys.

More than 180 fish species were recorded."

"Despite these values, the

area is under threat from land concessions, logging, burning and wildlife

hunting," Bezuijen said. "Without regulation many of the biological values the

teams are documenting, will decline or disappear, as they have in many other

parts of the Lower Mekong Basin."

WWF and Conservation International (CI)

plan to employ local villagers to protect the breeding grounds of the Cantor's

turtle and conduct patrols to prevent illegal trade in these unique

animals.

The turtle discovery was no surprise for locals. After the

discovery of the first female, a local fisherman gladly showed the team to the

breeding grounds, surprised by the sudden interest in these creatures that in

this area are plentiful.

The Khmer name for this species, 'kantheay',

links them to the giant sea turtle rather than other fresh water turtle

species.

Cantor's can grow up to two meters in length and reach weights

of more than 50 kilograms. The turtle's flat, soft shell is covered with rubbery

skin. Locally this soft skin is valued for use in post-natal traditional Khmer

cures. It is burned and soaked in wine as a cure for nausea.

The

Cantor's withdraws its head inside its skin before striking in a snakelike

fashion and is well known locally for its lightning-fast, bone-crushing bite and

aggressive demeanor.

"It has the fastest strike of any animal I've seen,

including cobras," said Emmett. "It buries itself in the sand and sends 95

percent of its time completely hidden out of sight with just its eyes and nose

showing. It feeds from this position, striking at fish and crabs."

Adults

only need to breathe about twice a day allowing them to spend almost the entire

time buried, explained Chris Greenwood, WWF Cambodia's communications adviser.

Experts believe they have survived in the safety of the deep Mekong pools where

the last of the rare Irrawaddy dolphins also take refuge.

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