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Rare soft-shell turtle, nesting ground found in Cambodia

One of the world’s largest and least studied freshwater turtles has been found in Cambodia’s Mekong River, raising hopes that the threatened species can be saved from extinction.

Scientists from Conservation International (CI), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Cambodian Fisheries Administration, and the Cambodian Turtle Conservation Team captured and released an 11-kilogram (24.2-pound) female Cantor’s giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) during a survey in March.

“This incredible discovery means that a unique turtle can be saved from disappearing from our planet,?said David Emmett, a CI wildlife biologist. “We thought it might be almost gone, but found it in abundance in this one pristine stretch of the Mekong, making the area the world’s most important site for saving this particular species.?

Instead of an exterior shell commonly associated with turtles, the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle has a rubbery skin with ribs fused together to form a protective layer over the internal organs. To protect itself from predators, the turtle spends 95 percent of its life hidden in sand or mud with only its eyes and nose showing. It possesses long claws and can extend its neck with lightning speed to bite with jaws powerful enough to crush bone.

“It has the fastest strike of any animal I’ve ever seen, including cobras,?Emmett said.

The researchers also found a nesting ground for the species and brought back eggs that have since hatched. The hatchlings were released into the wild on May 8, together with another adult turtle and additional hatchlings captured by fishermen and handed over to the conservation team.

Last observed by scientists in the wild in Cambodia in 2003, Cantor’s giant softshell turtles can grow up to 2 meters (6 feet) in length and weigh more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds). Only a few records of the species exist for Laos, and it appears to have disappeared across much of its former range in Vie
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Source:Conservation International


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