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New Program To Save Giant Leatherback Turtle From Extinction

January 26, 1991

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ The government has launched a new program to save the tropical leatherback turtle from extinction, an official said today.

In September, the Fisheries Department buried 20 of the reptile eggs on the beaches of Rantau Abang, 210 miles Northwest of Kuala Lumpur, according to the department’s deputy director, Mohamad Mazlan Jusoh.

Now hatched, the baby turtles are being nurtured in captivity and will be released only after reaching maturity, he said.

Although it is not known just how long it takes leatherback turtles - which often grow to six feet in diameter - to reach that stage, Jusoh said it would probably take a ″few years.″ So far, only two have died, he said.

Previous programs to protect the reptiles have failed because the baby turtles were released into the South China Sea just a few weeks after hatching and fell prey to larger sea creatures, Jusoh said.

Only one in 1,000 baby leatherback turtles that make their way into the sea survive to become adults, according to scientists studying the reptiles.

Mohamad said that in the 1950s about 1,700 of the turtles would land on the Rantau Abang beaches to lay eggs each year. That number dropped to about 50 in the past two years and the quantity of eggs laid has fallen from 853,000 to 25,000, he said.

Their numbers have dwindled in part because of sea pollution off Rantau Abang that has reduced the quantities of jelly fish - a major food supply for the turtles. In addition, their eggs are considered a delicacy, and the turtles often become entangled in fishermen’s nets, the scientists said.

The turtles, covered with a tough, leathery upper shell, often live to be about 100-years-old and weigh up to 1,600 pounds.

They are known to traverse the ocean to as far away as Japan, the Philippines and Australia, but come July-September return to Rantau Abang to lay their eggs.

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