12 Protected Mekong Turtles Found Dead During Raid

A dozen rare Mekong snail-eating turtles were found ready to eat during a raid on food stalls along National Road 5
Turtles were found ready to eat during a raid on food stalls along National Road 5. Kiripost via Wildlife Alliance
Turtles were found ready to eat during a raid on food stalls along National Road 5. Kiripost via Wildlife Alliance

A total of 12 rare Mekong turtles, threatened by demand for its meat, have been found dead after a raid on food stalls along National Road 5.

On Tuesday, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team seized the 12 dead Mekong snail-eating turtles, a rare species only found in Mekong countries. The discovery was made with the collaboration of WCS Cambodia and Partners Against Wildlife Crime to assist the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team.

The Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team busted stalls along National Road 5 and made the discovery, according to a Facebook post by Wildlife Alliance Cambodia. It attached pictures of the dead turtles lying on trays for sale along the street after the seller grilled them.

In response, Wildlife Alliance Cambodia is urging citizens to stop selling and buying wildlife, warning of the potential transmission of disease from wild animals to people.

“Some diseases can be passed from animals to humans, especially in the wildlife trade. For a healthy forest and people, wild animals should live free in the forest,” the organization said in its Facebook post.

On June 15, Wildlife Alliance Cambodia also posted the three main warnings against eating this species of turtle as it is considered to contain diseases that can transfer to humans.

Mekong snail-eating turtles are a protected species in Cambodia. They made up more than 50 percent of all Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) confiscations of turtles in 2020 and 2021, according to Wildlife Alliance Cambodia.

In Cambodia, the eggs of Mekong snail-eating turtles are in demand for food. However, the turtles are associated with zoonotic disease, such as Covid-19, meaning that touching and eating them can be detrimental to health.

There are three main reasons not to eat this type of turtle. First, It is illegal under the Fisheries Administration law. Second, globally, turtle numbers are low, but Cambodia has important populations that need to be protected to ensure their survival. And third, turtles can pose risks to health, especially to those who handle and eat them.

According to a 2020 publication, Malayemys Subtrijuga (Schlegel and Müller 1845) - Mekong Snail-Eating Turtle on the WCS website, the Mekong snail-eating turtle is a small (typically under 200mm long, but reaching up to 236mm) freshwater turtle inhabiting wetlands, rice fields, and other seasonal lowland habitats in Southeast Asia.

The species has an unusual distribution: a disjunct population on the island of Java in Indonesia, which could be either a centuries-old anthropogenic introduction or a naturally occurring relict, and an extensive occurrence across the lower Mekong River drainage of the southeastern Indochinese Peninsula.

The species exhibits sexual dimorphism in body size, with females growing considerably larger than males. Individuals have enlarged heads and other specializations for a diet consisting largely of molluscs.

Clutches of up to 10 eggs are laid during Cambodia’s dry season from December to March, and incubation is timed so hatchlings emerge at the beginning of the wet season.

Many aspects of the species’ natural history remain poorly known. Although considerable habitat is available, the species’ populations appear to have declined as a result of exploitation. Reduction in the level of collection and additional research and management are essential for the conservation of the species.