Thai villagers have caught a river terrapin turtle that was thought to be extinct in the country, a leading conservation group said Wednesday.
The female turtle — known for its egg-shaped shell and upturned snout — was found Jan. 3 in a mangrove canal in Phang Nga province on the country's Andaman coast, said the World Wide Fund for Nature-Thailand. It was the first time the species was found in Thailand in two decades, the WWF said.
"The discovery of a species that was believed to be extinct in Thailand is considered to be a very important event and it shows that the natural habitat, in which it was found is still rich and should be conserved," said WWF official Songpol Tippayawong.
Villagers from Klong Tum were out fishing when they spotted the turtle — about 20 inches long and weighing 62 pounds — as it was on its way to nest, the WWF said. They sold it to another villager who then alerted local conservation authorities.
The turtle, which is designated as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union, has been turned over to a district fisheries office and it will be raised in captivity, the WWF said. It will eventually be released back into the wild.
"Normally, turtles caught like this would have been eaten by the local people," Songpol said. "The turtle was initially sold but the villager who bought it had a conservation mind-set. This turtle was pretty lucky."
The turtles — which can be found in other parts of Asia along the Andaman Coast and the South China Sea — have seen their numbers reduced drastically in recent years, mostly due to poaching of their eggs, pollution and habitat loss.