Microchip Helps Save Rare Turtle From Smugglers

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
July 22, 2005

An extremely rare turtle has escaped the clutches of smugglers, thanks to a high-tech identification tag and keen-eyed inspectors.

Earlier this month Vietnamese police discovered a 33-pound (15-kilogram) endangered mangrove turtle, or "royal turtle," during a raid on a wildlife smuggler's home. Inspectors also found and confiscated more than 300 pounds (150 kilograms) of other turtles.

The shipment was headed to China, where turtle meat is often used in soups and the shells are ground to make traditional medicines.

Wildlife officials identified the rare species of the turtle, Batagur baska, from photographs in an old field guide. They then called Doug Hendrie, an Asian-turtle specialist working in Vietnam for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

"Initially, I was skeptical, as Batagur baska has never been recorded in the [turtle] trade here in Vietnam," he said.

A photo soon confirmed that the rescued turtle was a mangrove turtle.

"I was very surprised," Hendrie said.

When Vietnamese wildlife officers inspected the 20-year-old male turtle, they discovered a microchip under the animal's skin. The chip revealed that the turtle came from the Sre Ambel River in southern Cambodia.

The turtle had first been caught by fishermen in Cambodia in 2003. The fishermen turned it over to biologists, who implanted it with the tiny computer chip as part of a conservation program.

The reptile had not been seen again until now.

The rescued turtle is now undergoing a check-up. Wildlife workers discovered that its claws are worn down, suggesting that the turtle had been in captivity for some time and tried to escape its holding tank.

Population in Peril

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