July 22, 2005


HANOI, Vietnam -- They're calling him "the lucky royal turtle" -- a rare and endangered reptile that was saved from a Chinese soup pot by keen-eyed wildlife officers and a microchip.

Poachers snatched the animal, called a royal turtle in Cambodia because its eggs were once fed to kings, from a river there two months ago and toted it across the Vietnamese border with a stash of other, more common turtles.

Conservationists said that at 33 pounds, the animal was sure to fetch a good price at the smuggler's destination: the food markets of China, where turtle meat is a delicacy often made into soup.

A raid on the smuggler's house in southern Vietnam's Tay Ninh province was the turtle's first stroke of good luck. About 30 turtles were confiscated and transported to a wildlife inspection center, where workers noticed there was something different about this one.

"My staff said they had never seen a turtle that big," said Ta Van Dao, head of the forest control bureau in Tay Ninh. "Its head and eyes were also different from the regular turtles."

The Vietnamese wildlife officials consulted an endangered-species book, then called Doug Hendrie, an Asian turtle specialist based in Hanoi for the World Conservation Society.

A photo soon confirmed it was a Batagur baska, or Asian river terrapin, a species thought to have disappeared in Cambodia until it was rediscovered in 2001. Conservationists tagged the animals with tracking devices and monitored their nests, and King Norodom Sihamoni ordered their protection.

That led to the captured turtle's next good fortune. When officials inspected it in Ho Chi Minh City, they found a tiny microchip implanted under its wrinkly skin, pinpointing its home on the Sre Ambel River in southern Cambodia.

Hendrie, who also works for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, said there are only about two to eight females remaining there. The male had been tagged in Cambodia for research two years ago but not seen again until its discovery in Vietnam. He was shipped back to Cambodia last week and is undergoing health checks before being returned to the wild.

The Batagur baska is found only in parts of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia, and populations have been sharply declining.

"Every single turtle is important. ..." Hendrie said. "This was the first case where an animal had been transferred back to where it came from in Cambodia. It was a landmark event. - -Associated Press

New technologies for diabetics

Quick Takes

A Texas company says it's a step closer to developing a wristbandlike device that monitors blood glucose levels in diabetics, although it would likely not be on the market for several years.

Calisto Medical Inc. says it has completed preclinical trials on its Glucoband, a device that allows diabetics to continuously monitor their blood sugar without a needle prick.

Currently, the nation's approximately 18 million diabetics must draw blood to monitor their glucose levels.

Company officials say the Glucoband uses a patent-pending technology called Bio-Electric Impedance Spectroscopy, adding that Food and Drug Administration clinical trials are expected by early next year.

Calisto's announcement comes a year after research showed the possibility of an under-skin sensor (shown above) that also could monitor glucose levels without a needle prick. But researcher Craig Grimes of Pennsylvania State University says project funding has slowed.

Bottom Line: These technologies hold much promise for helping diabetics. But they probably won't be on the market for a few years.

-- Mary Beth Regan


Dark-chocolate lovers get slightly sweet news

More good news for chocoholics: A bar of dark chocolate a day may lower blood pressure and cholesterol, perhaps helping patients avoid heart disease, according to a study in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

Researchers in Italy and America studied 20 Italians with hypertension and found an average 12-point decrease in systolic, or higher, blood pressure reading and a 9-point decrease in the lower, or diastolic, reading in people who ate a daily 3.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate for 15 days. Blood pressure didn't decrease in those who got the same amount of white chocolate.

The dark-chocolate eaters also had a 10 percent drop in the levels of LDL cholesterol, the "bad cholesterol" that's a risk factor for arterial clogging, compared with the white chocolate recipients, the study found.

Dark chocolate contains a high level of a kind of antioxidant called cocoa flavonoids, which give it a slightly bittersweet taste and "appear to have benefits on vascular function and glucose sensitivity," said Jeffrey B. Blumberg, an author of the study and scientist at Tufts University in Boston.

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