Rare Royal Turtle Narrowly Escapes Becoming Soup

The mangrove turtle, Batagur baska, on a beach. (Image credit: Brad Poynter of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.)

A rare royal turtle has been returned to his kingdom after being saved from becoming fancy soup.

Thanks to a tiny tracking chip implanted in the turtle's skin, wildlife inspectors discovered the 33-pound creature in a crate full of confiscated wildlife in Vietnam. Smugglers had planned to ship the turtle to China where it would be turned to soup.

After a quick health check-up, the turtle was returned to the Sre Ambel River in Cambodia where Cambodia's Fisheries Department released the endangered turtle two years ago.

"This is a clear and very positive example of how authorities can cooperate across international borders to resolve specific trans-border trade cases," said Dough Hendrie, the Asian turtle coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society. "In this case, a very important turtle has returned home."

This species of mangrove turtle, Batagur baska, was once considered the exclusive property of the Cambodian Royal Family. Today, the WCS works alongside the National Fisheries Department of Cambodia to protect the turtles' nesting beaches and reduce local hunting and egg collection.

Every day thousands of turtles are smuggled across the borders into China, where they are eaten or used in traditional medicine.

Since only a few nesting females are recorded each year, authorities need to better control smuggling to ensure the turtle doesn't become extinct in Cambodia.

"The population in Sre Ambel is small and every turtle counts," Hendrie said last week.

This mangrove turtle is also native to coastal river systems and mangrove forests from India to Bangladesh, Myanmar and along the coasts of Malaysia, Sumatra, and Thailand.

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Bjorn Carey is the science information officer at Stanford University. He has written and edited for various news outlets, including Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries, Space.com and Popular Science. When it comes to reporting on and explaining wacky science and weird news, Bjorn is your guy. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his beautiful son and wife.