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Rare Turtle Rears Its Head Along Cambodia's Mekong

Wildlife researchers have found a rare fresh-water turtle in Cambodia's Mekong River, leading to the hope that it won't join the fate of some of the country's disappearing species.

The rubbery-skinned Cantor's giant turtle was discovered along with a rare nesting site along the river in March, by scientists from Conservation International, the World Wildlife Fund and Cambodia's Fisheries Administration, CI said in a statement.

"This incredible discovery means that a unique turtle can be saved from disappearing from our planet," David Emmett, a CI wildlife biologist, said in the 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."

Much of Cambodia's wildlife was preserved in lands kept wild by years of civil strife, but peacetime has meant increased exploitation of the nation's forests and animals, endangering once-safe species.

The Cantor's giant softshell was thought to be among them, but scientists explained the turtle's nature also makes it elusive.

"Instead of an exterior shell commonly associated with turtles, the Cantor's giant softshell turtle has a rubbery skin with ribs fused together to form a protective layer over the internal organs," CI said. "To protect itself from predators, the turtle spends 95 percent of its life hidden in sand or mud with only its eyes and nose showing."

"It possesses long claws and can extend its neck with lightning speed to bite with jaws powerful enough to crush bone," CI said.

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