PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A colony of one of the world’s largest turtles has been found in a remote stretch of the Mekong in Cambodia, raising hopes the species can be saved from extinction, environmentalists said on Wednesday.
Scientists of Conservation International (CI), WWF and Cambodia’s fisheries department said they had caught and freed an 11 kg (24 lb) female Asian giant soft-shell turtle during a survey of the river in March.
They also found the turtles’ nesting ground in a riverbank in the northeastern province of Stung Treng, a former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, around 180 km (115 miles) north of Phnom Penh.
“This incredible discovery means that a unique turtle can be saved from disappearing from our planet,” CI biologist David Emmett said in a statement.
“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,” he said.
The turtle, which spends 95 percent of its life hidden in sand or mud with only its eyes and nose showing, can grow up to 2 metres (6 feet) long and weigh more than 50 kg (110 lb).
It is thought to exist in India, Bangladesh and southeast Asia, although years of being hunted for its meat means it now sits on the IUCN conservation union’s “red list” of threatened species, the same level as tigers and pandas.