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Endangered river turtle's genes reveal ancient influence of Maya Indians
Date:7/21/2011

n burial site in Mexico, a spot located more than 186 miles from the known range of this turtle, the researchers say. An ancient sculpture of a Central American river turtle at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City was found in the Basin of Mexico, more than 217 miles from the turtle's range.

"The Central American River turtle is tame and resilient," Gonzlez-Porter explains, "which makes it easy to transport. Their shells give them lots of protection. People don't have refrigeration so they put the turtles in ponds in their back yards."

During the rainy season in the tropics, the water flows are huge, she says. Rivers and ponds flood, captive turtles escape and mix with the local turtles.

This ancient practice still persists today. In Guatemala, Central American river turtles are kept in medium-sized ponds where they can be easily captured when needed. Similarly, in the State of Tabasco, Mexico, captured turtles are kept in rustic ponds and raised until they are either consumed or sold.

The genetic analysis of the Central American River turtle was initiated because these animals are critically endangered, Gonzlez-Porter says.

They are the last surviving species of the giant river turtles of the family Dermatemydidae. D. mawii is currently the most endangered turtle species in Central America. A recent increase in the commercial demand for its meat has pushed it to the brink of extinction2.2 pounds of their meat can fetch $100. Most local populations have disappeared and this turtle is now largely restricted to remote areas that are inaccessible to humans.


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Contact: John Gibbons
gibbonsjp@si.edu
202-633-5187
Smithsonian
Source:Eurekalert  

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