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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Rare turtles hatch in Cambodia
Cambodian royal turtle (Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society)
Royal turtles were once considered the king's property
Cambodian wildlife officials have announced a royal birth - the hatching of at least 30 rare royal turtles.

Also known as the giant estuarine terrapin, the animals can weigh up to 30 kilograms and were once considered the property of the king by royal decree.

The turtles were thought to have died out in Cambodia in the 19th century, but a small population of about 50 was discovered last year.

Officials say about 70 eggs have produced baby turtles in southern Koh Kong province along the Sre Ambel River.

"We are very happy with that news," provincial agricultural official Houn Phoung told the French news agency AFP.

The US-based Wildlife Conservation Society, which has been working with Cambodian officials, says the turtles are among the most endangered species in Asia.

Tiny populations of the turtles live in India and Malaysia, although they used to be prevalent in many places across Asia.

Bad luck

The species was threatened largely by the human practice of hunting eggs for food.

But in Cambodia it was historically thought to be bad luck to kill an adult royal turtle.

A team of scientists confirmed that a pocket of turtles was alive and well in Cambodia in February 2001. They examined several animals including a female of near-record size snagged by fishermen.

Predominantly vegetarian, royal turtles eat mangrove fruit and aquatic plants.

See also:

10 May 02 | Science/Nature
02 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
01 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
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