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
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
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
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.
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
"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."
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.