HANOI -- They're calling him ''the lucky royal turtle," a rare and endangered reptile that was saved from a likely fate in 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 Cambodian river two months ago and toted it across the Vietnamese border.
Conservationists said that at 33 pounds, the animal was sure to have fetched a good price at the food markets of China, where turtle meat is often made into soup.
A raid on the smuggler's house in 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 this one was different.
They consulted an endangered species book, then called Doug Hendrie, an Asian turtle specialist based in Hanoi. They told him they thought they had a Batagur baska, or Asian river terrapin.
A photo confirmed it was a Batagur baska, a species thought to have disappeared in Cambodia until it was rediscovered in 2001. Conservationists began tagging the animals with tracking devices and monitoring their nests.
That led to the turtle's next good fortune. Officials found a microchip implanted under its skin, pinpointing its home on the Sre Ambel River in Cambodia.
Vietnamese and Cambodian officials worked to repatriate the turtle. It was shipped to Cambodia last week and is undergoing health checks.