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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 May 2007, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Rare giant turtle found in Mekong
Soft-shell turtle
The giant turtle has rubbery skin and a powerful bite
One of the world's largest turtles, said to be on the brink of extinction, has been found in abundance in a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in Cambodia.

Conservationists discovered an 11kg (24lb) female Cantor's giant soft-shell turtle and a nesting ground during a survey of the country's Mekong River.

The species, which can grow two metres (6ft) long and weigh 50kg (110lb) was last spotted in Cambodia in 2003.

Scientists say the find could help save it from disappearing off the planet.

It has the fastest strike of any animal I've ever seen, including cobras
David Emmett

Experts from Conservation International (CI) and WWF, along with Cambodian wildlife officials, stumbled across the animal and the nesting ground when conducting a survey in March.

Rubbery skin

"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," David Emmett, a CI biologist said.

Eggs that were found have since hatched. The baby turtles were released into the wild earlier this month, along with another adult turtle.

The species has a rubbery skin and a powerful bite, with jaws strong enough to crush bone.

It spends most of its time hidden in sand with only its eyes or nose showing.

Two soft-shell turtles
The hatchlings were released along with an adult turtle

Mr Emmett said the turtle could extend its neck with lightning speed.

"It has the fastest strike of any animal I've ever seen, including cobras."

The region where the species were found had been closed to scientific exploration for many years because it was one of the last places under the control of the Khmer Rouge.

Mark Bezuijen of the WWF, who led the team, said the area was "a near pristine region of tall riverine forest, waterways and island archipelagos where further exciting biological discoveries will almost certainly be made".

The conservationists plan to protect the turtles by employing local people to patrol the beaches.

They hope to prevent illegal fishing of the species, which is an expensive delicacy in Vietnam.

Rare turtles hatch in Cambodia
18 Jun 02 |  Asia-Pacific
Rare turtle discovered on beach
13 Dec 06 |  Cornwall
Country profile: Cambodia
19 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

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